James Ratcliffe

Professional cycling outfit Team Sky will become Team Ineos after Britain's richest man Sir James Ratcliffe confirmed a deal to buy it.

In December, Sky said it would end its 10-year with cycling team at the end of the 2019 season. It sparked concerns about the team's future due to the size of its budget compared with other teams.

But chemical giants Ineos, owned by Sir James Ratcliffe who is worth £21 billion, has stepped in and will become the sole owner from 1 May. Team Ineos will have its first outing at the Tour de Yorkshire, which starts a day later.

With an estimated annual budget of around £30 million, Ineos has said it "will continue to fund the current team in full, honouring all existing commitments to riders, staff and partners".

Sir James, who is a keen cyclist, said: "Cycling is a great endurance and tactical sport that is gaining ever more popularity around the world.

"Equally, cycling continues to mushroom for the general public as it is seen to be good for fitness and health, together with easing congestion and pollution in city environments.

"Ineos is delighted to take on the responsibility of running such a professional team."

Team principal Dave Brailsford said: "Today's announcement is great news for the team, for cycling fans, and for the sport more widely.

"It ends the uncertainty around the team and the speed with which it has happened represents a huge vote of confidence in our future.

"In Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos, I know we have found the right partner whose vision, passion and pioneering spirit can lead us to even greater success on and off the bike. It heralds the start of a hugely exciting new chapter for us all as Team Ineos."

Team Sky was launched by the broadcaster in 2010 with the ambition of winning the Tour de France with a British rider within five years, with a host of British riders at its core. That target was achieved at its third attempt when Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win cycling's most prestigious race. Team Sky would go on to win a further five Tour de France titles with Chris Froome and most recently Geraint Thomas in 2018.

It is the second major sporting investment Sir James Ratcliffe has made in the past 12 months. Last year, he struck a deal with British Olympic champion Ben Ainslie and his sailing team to invest £110m to help in its goal to win the Americas Cup. Last year, reports also suggested that Sir James made an offer to purchase Chelsea Football Club from Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.