If Chris Froome leaves team Ineos, which squad might he join, and what other riders would stand in the way of him claiming a record-equalling fifth Tour title alongside Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain?
Here Telegraph Sport analyses the options including the bookmakers' favourites, and one or two leftfield options.
The sight of Movistar throwing its weight behind Froome, who has largely frustrated the Spanish squad at the Tour de France since 2013, would certainly raise the eyebrows of a few observers. Following the close season departures of Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), Richard Carapaz (Ineos) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Merida) though, Eusebio Unzué's squad now stands at the crossroads. But does the general manager stick with his as yet untested new-look squad in what may turn out to be the most intense block of racing the sport has ever seen, or go for broke and snap up the ageing — but proven winner — Froome?
Intra-team rivalry: Enric Mas, the rider dubbed “the next Alberto Contador” by Spanish media, would no doubt feel a little aggrieved by a mid-season arrival of Froome. One imagines, however, that the 25-year-old who was runner-up at the 2018 Vuelta a España could be convinced into taking a support role while learning from a modern-day grand tour master of the sport. Though in no way a direct rival, the power wielded by Alejandro Valverde within the squad — as evidenced in the recent Netflix documentary The Least Expected Day: Inside the Movistar Team 2019 — may prove an even hotter potato for Unzué to juggle with.
Telegraph Sport's verdict: Historically Movistar have the grand tour-winning pedigree — 14 wins since its formation in 1980 — Froome would need should he opt to quit Ineos mid-season. First, though, he would have to be prepared to embrace the chaos of a team that appears to operate on a different planet to Ineos. Commercially, too, Movistar whose parent company Telefónica are looking to invest £10bn in the UK over the next five years suggests they also have the resources needed to lure one of world's best-paid cyclists. Unzué may have told Spanish newspaper Diario de Navarra on Sunday there was '‘zero per cent chance’ of the deal happening, but this could still be the perfect fit for both parties.
During their relaunch at the McLaren HQ in Woking over the winter, the suits at Bahrain-McLaren spoke of how they hoped to “disrupt” the traditionally conservative sport of cycling. Whether or not signing a 35-year-old who is returning from a career-threatening injury would represent that ‘disruption’ is doubtful, but it would certainly ruffle a few feathers. Having already lured Rod Ellingworth, the coaching brains behind much of Team Sky and British Cycling's success over the past decade, to Bahrain-McLaren last year the capture of Froome would represent a further blow, albeit symbolic, to Dave Brailsford's squad.
Intra-team rivalry: There may be some familiar faces at Bahrain-McLaren should Froome jump ship mid-season, but it is doubtful all of those faces will be welcoming. Having ridden in support of Froome during the 2016 and 2017 Tours de France, Mikel Landa joined Movistar to pursue his own yellow jersey ambitions. Despite getting opportunities, the amiable Basque was overshadowed by his team-mates. One can only imagine Landa, 30, who was signed to become Bahrain-McLaren's general classification rider, would be furious if Froome joined. Another former team-mate of Froome's, Dutchman Wout Poels, also signed for the team in the hope of chasing his own goals, rather than in the role of a domestique.
Telegraph Sport's verdict: If Ellingworth can convince Landa — and it's a big ask given his age — to sacrifice one more year in support of Froome then it may just work. In Pello Bilbao, Damiano Caruso, Matej Mohoric and Dylan Teuns, Ellingworth certainly has the personnel to support Froome in what may be his final tilt at the Tour. There is, however, another fly in the ointment: Mark Cavendish. Would Cavendish, who turns 35 this week, accept going to France with no lead-out and just one other fastman in Sonny Colbrelli for company? Throw in the fact that Bahrain-McLaren riders reportedly took a 70 per cent pay cut to help the team through the Covid-19 crisis and one can only wonder what the reaction would be to one of the highest-paid riders in the world being added to the payroll. If Ellingworth were to pull this off then it may be his greatest achievement yet, and he has already set a very high bar.
In recent years, no team has managed to break the stranglehold Team Sky and Ineos has held on the maillot jaune, though Dutch squad Jumbo-Visma has on occasion threatened. Indeed, before Covid-19 brought the season to a halt, it was widely predicted by many that Richard Plugge's team would in 2020 provide Ineos with the sternest test yet they have faced at the Tour. With two former grand tour winners — Tom Dumoulin (Giro d'Italia, 2017) and Primoz Roglic (Vuelta a España, 2019) — now within their ranks along with a very strong support cast, the addition of Froome would turn Jumbo-Visma into a dominant force, would it not?
Intra-team rivalry: Just like Ineos — the frying pan of talent that Froome may be looking to jump out of — Jumbo-Visma possess a sizzling group of riders with an array of general classification options. In Roglic the team has a potential heir apparent to Froome, while in the close season signing of Dumoulin, Jumbo-Visma acquired itself a bona fide national sporting hero after he became the first Dutchman since Joop Zoetemelk in 1980 to win a grand tour. Steven Kruijswijk, Sepp Kuss and George Bennett are all capable of stepping up should the opportunity arise, which is more than likely should the proposed calendar go ahead.
Telegraph Sport's verdict: With a Dutch supermarket chain as one of their co-title sponsors, Jumbo-Visma are in all likelihood one of only three or four teams that may not be financially stricken as a result of the coronavirus crisis. However, while Froome may demand a huge salary should he walk away from Ineos, there is more at stake for the 34-year-old — 35 on May 20 — than just cash which is why a switch to Jumbo-Visma is doubtful. Though Froome may add something to the squad, there would be no guarantee he would be given the leadership role he will demand at either this year or next year's Tour, while his arrival would also upset the status quo in a finely-balanced squad.
Israel Start-Up Nation
The newest team to join the WorldTour may lack the pedigree, but they are not short on ambition — or cash thanks to the backing of billionaire real-estate developer Sylvan Adams. Adams is rumoured to have paid Froome a €2m appearance fee when the Giro started in Jerusalem in 2018.
Intra-team rivalry: Froome would expect to walk into the leader's role should he join mid-season. Though short on competition, support in the mountains would come from Dan Martin — who has previously ridden for general classification — Daniel Navarro and Ben Hermans.
Telegraph Sport's verdict: There may be the money and the leadership opportunities for Froome at Israel Start-Up Nation, but with the clock ticking on his career can he risk it all with an unproven squad at the very pinnacle of the sport as he looks to join cycling's gang of four? Unlikely to happen this year, but Telegraph Sport understands the team is very keen on Froome who may be tempted with a two or three-year deal.
Not for the first time Froome has been linked with a move to the South African team, though one gets the impression that has little to do with much more than the fact he has strong links with the country. General classification ambitions boosted since the arrival of manager Bjarne Riis.
Intra-team rivalry: No bona fide challengers in a squad that may be able to provide some assistance in the mountains. In Domenico Pozzovivo (37) and Roman Kreuziger (34) they certainly have the experience, while the 28-year-old Louis Meintjes would possibly take co-leadership duties.
Telegraph Sport's verdict: Having got his career under way at South African team Konica-Minolta, it would certainly be a transfer for the romantics, though one gets the impression that Froome is not big on romance, certainly not when there's a possible fifth Tour up for grabs.
UAE Team Emirates
Have quietly built a strong looking squad ready to challenge for the biggest stage races in the world. Though few have mentioned UAE Team Emirates as a potential destination for Froome, it would be remiss to ignore a squad with both the ambition and resources at their disposal.
Intra-team rivalry: Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, 21, is one of the brightest talents around and may represent a barrier to Froome after winning three stages and finishing third at last year's Vuelta. Italian Davide Formolo may also object to the arrival of another general classification rider.
Telegraph Sport's verdict: Could be perfect for a squad that has the strength to challenge for the top honours, but may look a little thin across all three grand tours. Must first convince Pogacar who recently signed a contract extension and was promised a ride at the Tour to put his ambitions on hold for now. May prove tricky and a risk not worth taking while finances may mot be as readily available as one would imagine following the impact on the oil and airline industries.
They are the wealthiest team in the world and although they are not the world No 1-ranked — that honour goes to Deceuninck-Quick Step — Ineos are the team that has dominated the Tour since it first won the race with Bradley Wiggins in 2012. Froome has been there since the team's inception in 2010 and they were behind each and every one of his professional wins. They may not see eye-to-eye on everything, but the squad and Froome are the perfect fit.
Does Froome really think he can do what no other rider has managed since 2012 and beat a full-strength Sky/Ineos team at the Tour? As intriguing as it would be watching Froome race for Movistar against his old bosses, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that he will be staying put and recent developments are part of a power-play from the rider's camp.