Team Sky rider Chris Froome of Britain in action at the 181.5-km Stage 9 from Nantua to Chambery. Image Credit: Reuters

Abu Dhabi: Team Sky has suffered a huge setback ahead of the much-awaited inaugural UAE Tour with Chris Froome pulling out at the last minute.

The six-time Grand Tour winner was the star attraction for the seven-stage tour running across the seven Emirates.

The British team, who are in the hunt for sponsorship after Team Sky announcing to part ways at the end of 2019, would have banked on Froome to impress in the Middle East as he builds up for the Tour de France in July.

In Froome’s absence, the onus will be now on Michal Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon to co-lead as per Team Sky’s final roster for the event to be held from February 25 to March 2.

“I’m disappointed to miss UAE Tour, but I need to recover fully from Colombia, instead of going straight into such a big World Tour race. I wish the boys all the best for what I’m sure will be a great event,” said Froome in a statement.

The 33-year old tweeted that he ‘underestimated’ the effect of racing at altitude in Tour Colombia.

At Tour Colombia, Froome finished 91st overall but Team Sky impressed as teammates Ivan Sosa and Egan Bernal finished second and fourth, respectively in the General Classification.

Team Sky director Dario Cioni, despite the absence of Froome, was upbeat about Kwiatkowski and Moscon giving the thrust to the side.

"It’s the first race for Gianni and Michal this season and after some good winter training, they will be able to gauge where they are at against the rest of the field," said Cioni, who has roped in Frenchman Kenny Elissonde as Froome’s replacement. Others who complete the squad of seven riders are Kristoffer Halvorsen, Salvatore Puccio and Pavel Sivakov.