Rabobank cuts cycling ties
The Hague - Rabobank said Friday it will stop sponsoring professional cycling at the end of this year, in the wake of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) report on the use of banned substances in the sport.
"We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport," the Dutch bank's chief financial officer, Bert Bruggink, said as he announced the end of its 17-year backing.
"We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future," a statement quoted him as saying.
Rabobank said the "inevitable" decision came following the USADA report on Lance Armstrong which was published last week and put the seven-time Tour de France winner at the heart of the biggest doping programme in the history of sport.
"For us the USADA report was the straw that broke the camel's back. That's enough," Bruggink told a press conference.
"What the USADA showed us is that international cycle racing is not only sick, but also at the highest level within cycling, including a number of the relevant authorities, including checks on the use of doping," he said.
The bank said it would still sponsor amateur cycling but would also end its relationship with women's cycling. Rabobank riders will compete next season but without a sponsor's name on their shirts, Bruggink said.
Rabobank is one of 18 top-level cycling teams and the decision hits a number of the sport's major names, including Dutch rider Robert Gesink, who told cyclingnews.com: "It feels like a smack in the face at this moment...
"I don't have any words for it but it's one of the worst things that could happen," he added, suggesting that the current crop of riders were being made to pay for the sins of their predecessors.
The bank will also try to find a solution to keep sponsoring Dutch Olympic champion Marianne Vos at least up to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Rabobank cycling team said in a statement on its website that it regretted the move, but understood the decision.
"Many talents have had the chance to develop thanks to Rabobank," it said.
Rabobank's sponsorship is the latest casualty of the far-reaching Armstrong scandal, which the USADA called "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".
The International Cycling Union (UCI) governing body is studying the 202-page dossier and more than 1,000 pages of supporting testimony to see if it will accept the findings.
Rabobank on Thursday suspended Spanish cyclist Carlos Barredo after it was announced he faced disciplinary action from the UCI for allegedly breaking blood-doping rules.
Marketing expert Frank van den Wall Bake told Dutch news agency ANP that the decision was "unavoidable" in the Netherlands where millions love cycling but where a bank cannot be seen to be involved in a tainted sport.
"I don't expect a candidate to come forward to take over Rabobank's role in cycling," he said.
The UCI, which is under growing pressure to say how Armstrong managed to avoid detection for so long, said it accepted the 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 UCI understands the context which has led to this decision being reached," it said.