Thieves steal the spotlight from Chris Froome

Briton wins his first race of the season but in France Sky have 16 bikes stolen in latest theft

Hours before Chris Froome celebrated his first victory of the season in the Tour of Oman yesterday, the Briton's Sky team-mates in France were left wondering if they could race at all after becoming the latest victims of a series of bike thefts troubling professional cycling.

Sky confirmed 16 of 18 bikes worth about £220,000 were stolen from a support vehicle on the eve of the two-day Tour du Haut Var in southern France, along with training wheels and other equipment.

With the discovery made only yesterday morning, Sky's eight riders were at serious risk of not being able to start the Haut Var race. Fortunately with a team base in nearby Nice, five replacement bikes were rushed to the squad, while another was borrowed from the Bretagne-Séché team, who were staying in the same hotel.

Given that cycling is such a global sport – Sky had teams taking part in races in Spain, Oman and France yesterday – the risk of a team's material being stolen during the non-stop travel in a season is always high. However, the number of teams at the top end of the sport suffering bike thefts has soared notably in the last 12 months.

Last week bikes and equipment were stolen from the Cannondale squad headquarters near Pordenone in Italy worth an estimated €100,000 (£82,680), and in late October, Team Europcar had their bikes taken at the Eurometropole Tour in Belgium. In September thieves also made off with equipment belonging to the Danish and Russian teams at the World Championships, and two other top teams, Garmin-Sharp and RadioShack Trek also had their bikes stolen earlier in the year.

Some top riders take exceptional precautions to keep the thieves at bay: the Spaniard Miguel Indurain, who won the Tour de France five years in a row between 1991 and 1995, used to insist on sleeping with his bike in his hotel room during races. And in Sky's case, the robbery of the bikes – with industry sources estimating each bike to be worth in the region of £13,000 – may lead them to tighten up security in the future.

"The thieves took all the bikes, bar two, and we presume they only left those because they'd run out of space in whatever transport they were using," said Team Sky's race coach Shaun Stephens. "They also took some of the spare training wheels, and various bits of other equipment." The bikes, other sources told The Independent on Sunday, were insured.

Meanwhile, in Oman, Froome gave Sky something to cheer about as he claimed his first victory of the season and soared into the overall lead at the Green Mountain summit finish. The 28-year-old broke away on the tough climb, to take the win ahead of BMC's Tejay van Garderen and former Sky rider Rigoberto Uran, and barring last-minute disaster on today's stage into Muscat, should take the outright victory for a second straight year.

Last year Froome's win in Oman was the first in a near unbroken run of stage-race victories leading through to the Tour de France in July, and his strong form so early in the season obviously hints strongly that he may well do the same again in 2014.

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