Chris Froome and BMC Racing have rubbished a report in this morning's edition of French sports daily l’Equipe that the three-time Tour de France champion wants to leave Team Sky despite having a year of his contract to run and had approached the US-based team with an offer to join it for a salary of €5 million a year.
Speaking before the start of today's Stage 5 of the Criterium du Dauphiné, Froome told Cyclingnews.com that the French newspaper's report was "complete rubbish."
BMC Racing general manager Jim Ochowicz told Cycling Weekly: “It’s a complete lie. That’s a lie.
“I wouldn’t even classify it as a rumour," he added. "It’s a flat-out lie.”
If that is the case, one might be entitled to wonder why L'Equipe might publish a story so close to the Tour de France, where Froome is looking for a fourth victory in five years and BMC Racing's Richie Porte looks set to start among the favourites given his strong showing so far in the Dauphiné where he won yesterday's individual time trial and lies second overall.
Could it be an attempt to destabilise both teams ahead of a race where last year's runner-up, AG2R-La Mondiale's Romain Bardet, carries the hopes of a home victory for the first time since Bernard Hinault's fifth and final victory in 1985?
According to L'Equipe's report, BMC Racing general manager Jim Ochowicz was said to have rebuffed the approach for now, with his priority being to secure existing backer TAG Heuer as replacement sponsor for Swiss bike brand BMC.
The 32-year-old, a founder member of Team Sky when it began racing in 2010, has reportedly unhappy with the team’s involvement in the ‘Jiffy Bag’ affair over a medicine delivered for Sir Bradley Wiggins at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphiné that is the subject of a UK Anti-Doping investigation.
He has said that the controversy over that and Therapeutic Use Exemptions issued to Wiggins ahead of races including the 2012 Tour de France, which he won with Froome second, threatened to tarnish Team Sky’s clean image as well as casting a cloud over his own performances.
> Froome: I want answers about Wiggins' injections
Froome has been reported as being disappointed with Sir Dave Brailsford’s handling of the issue, with rumours intensifying of a rift between the pair earlier this year when the team had to pull a letter expressing support for Brailsford after it turned out its star rider hadn’t signed it.
Subsequently, Froome issued a statement in which he gave Brailsford his support, but also made clear he was not happy with how the team had dealt with the negative publicity that had engulfed it in the preceding months.
> “Without Dave B, there is no Team Sky” – Chris Froome finally comes out in support of Sir Dave Brailsford
He said: “I completely understand why people feel let down by the way in which the situation has been handled, and going forward we need to do better.”
Froome added: “I would like to apologise for this on behalf of myself and the other riders of Team Sky who feel passionately about our sport and winning clean. I believe in the people around me, and what we are doing.”
L’Equipe’s report comes the day after BMC Racing’s hope for this year’s Tour de France, Froome’s close friend and former lieutenant at Team Sky, Richie Porte, put in a towering performance to win the Stage 4 time trial at the Criterium du Dauphiné.
Froome – who is looking to win the week-long race for a record fourth time – finished eighth, 37 seconds down on the Australian, while Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt retains the overall lead, with Porte moving into second place, 27 seconds behind him.
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