Chris Froome insisted it does matter to him which company’s name he wears on his chest but sees nothing wrong in new sponsor Ineos.
The cyclists formerly known as Team Sky will tackle the Tour de Yorkshire in their new dark red Team Ineos kit this week, and are braced for environmental protesters to target them along the way.
Friends of the Earth on Wednesday issued an open letter to team principal Dave Brailsford, accusing chemical multinational Ineos of using sport to “greenwash” its name given its interests in fracking and its status as a large-scale producer of plastic.
The team’s launch took place far away from any potential protests in a remote corner of the Yorkshire Dales, and Froome arrived by bike in his new kit.
“Of course it matters, within reason,” the four-time Tour de France winner said when asked about the name on his jersey. “It matters who the company is, sure.”
Froome sat alongside Brailsford and Ineos chairman Jim Ratcliffe, his new paymaster, at Wednesday’s launch, and listened as the latter defended his company’s record on environmental issues.
Ratcliffe dismissed many of the concerns around fracking, calling many protest groups “ignorant”, criticising the government for listening to a “noisy minuscule minority”, and insisting his company had made significant breakthroughs on expanding the recycling of plastic.
Brailsford said he had been convinced.
“I’m not an expert in chemicals, I’m an expert in trying to make Chris ride his bike faster,” he said.
“But when I did come to educate myself I realised there’s a very simplistic view and when you dive down into it and take the effort you can find out there’s a very different view.
“I’m very comfortable with the situation we’re in.”
Asked how Ineos’ sponsorship squared with the team’s recent #passonplastic campaign, he said: “If anybody can do anything about it, it’s these guys.”
And that was apparently good enough for Froome.
“I understand the (perception) but I was quite happy to be here today to hear what Jim has to say about those issues,” he said.
“As a company I think they are genuinely doing something to try to tackle a lot of those environmental issues.
“I think Dave explained it really well. Now we’ve got an opportunity to change things.”
If Froome had a complaint, it was that other teams, in cycling and beyond, do not face the same questions about their sponsorship.
“If you can ask so much of certain sportspeople and not others, especially when there are other energy companies in the peloton and not a word is said to those teams or riders, then I don’t think this is fair.”
Ratcliffe has made it clear he has no plans to interfere in the running of the team. with Brailsford retaining control.
But as Britain’s richest man, he has the deep pockets required to ensure the team remains the best funded in the sport – a budget which has helped them win six out of the last seven Tours de France.
And the 66-year-old insisted his commitment was open-ended and for the long-term.
“We’ve spent 30 years working on the Ineos project and made it very large and very profitable,” Ratcliffe said.
“We make US dollars 5-7billion a year in profit so there’s no harm in investing a modest amount of that into very worthy sporting endeavours which we enjoy.
“If they inspire people towards a healthier lifestyle, that’s a good thing but there’s also nothing wrong in investing money in something simply enjoyable.
“I like the theatre, I like opera. But I prefer sport.”
Ratcliffe will now hope to spend his summer watching Froome ride into history.
The 33-year-old is targeting a fifth Tour de France crown, which would equal the record held by Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil, and Miguel Indurain.
“I’m working hard now to target that fifth Tour de France,” said Froome. “If I can do that with Ineos it would be incredible.”
- Press Association