Pro cycling’s longtime backbone, Rabobank, ends all sponsorships

MIKE CORDER

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 Agency's report on Lance Armstrong.

The bank said early Friday it will halt sponsorship of its men's and women's 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 Rabobank's 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 sport's governing body said it "reaffirms its commitment to the fight against doping and full transparency about potential anti-doping rule violations." The Rabobank men's 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 women's 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.

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