Dutch bank Rabobank is ending its long sponsorship of professional cycling,saying the trust in the cycling world has gone following the publication of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agencys report on Lance Armstrong.
The bank said early Friday it will halt sponsorship of its mens and womens professional teams at the end of 2012 after 17 years. It is with a heavy heart,but it is an irreversible decision for our bank, Bert Bruggink of the board of governors said. We are no longer convinced that the international professional cycling world is capable of creating a clean and honest sport.
The teams said later in a statement they will try to find new sponsors. The announcement signaled the end of the biggest professional cycling team in the bike-crazy Netherlands.
It came a day after the Rabobank team confirmed that the International Cycling Union had launched a doping case against one of its riders,Carlos Barredo. The UCI said it understood Rabobanks decision in light of the difficult period,namely the high public interest in past doping issues and perhaps a more recent action taken by the UCI against a rider of the team.
The sports governing body said it reaffirms its commitment to the fight against doping and full transparency about potential anti-doping rule violations. The Rabobank mens team includes Dutch rider Robert Gesink and Spanish colleague Luis Leon Sanchez,who won a stage in each of the last two Tours de France. The womens team is led by world and Olympic road race champion Marianne Vos.
Vos tweeted that the decision was understandable in light of the current doping cases,but unfortunately this hurts many innocent (riders) in our sport.
The closest the Rabobank came to an overall Tour victory was halted by doping suspicions swirling around Michael Rasmussen,who was fired by the team while leading the 2007 Tour for lying about his whereabouts when he missed pre-race doping tests. Rasmussen was banned for two years,although he has maintained he raced clean and never tested positive.
Another past Rabobank rider,Levi Leipheimer,was fired Wednesday by the Omega Pharma-Quick Step cycling team after confessing to doping as part of the investigation that brought down Armstrong. Leipheimer was Armstrongs teammate for five years during stints with the US Postal Service,Astana and RadioShack teams before joining Quick Step this season.
A week ago,Armstrongs former manager,Johan Bruyneel,himself a former Rabobank rider,left the RadioShack-Nissan team after he was singled out as a central figure in the doping program. Unlike Armstrong,Bruyneel says he intends to contest the USADA charges.
Also,in 2009,the team said Russian rider Denis Menchov and two of his Rabobank teammates,Joost Posthuma and Pieter Weening,were questioned by the Austrian federal criminal police office about their alleged involvement in a blood doping affair but added: They are not involved in a doping scandal.
Gesink said a new generation of clean riders was being punished for the sins of the past. It is extremely bitter that we are now paying for what happened in the past, Gesink told national daily De Volkskrant.
USADA banned Armstrong for life and said he should be stripped of his seven Tour titles because of his involvement in the most sophisticated,professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.
The USADA report sent shockwaves through the sport of cycling. On Wednesday,Armstrong was dumped by Nike,Anheuser-Busch and other sponsors and he gave up the top spot at Livestrong,his cancer-fighting charity.
Rabobank said it would continue to sponsor amateur cycling,a youth development program and cyclocross. Cycling is a fantastic sport enjoyed by millions of people in the Netherlands, Bruggink said. But our decision is irreversible: We are withdrawing from professional cycling. It is painful,not only for the Rabobank,but especially the fans and riders who are not to blame.