The T-Mobile squad were tonight struggling to put a brave face on a very bad situation, with team spokesman Christian Frommert admitting that Patrik Sinkewitz's positive test for testosterone may yet cost the team its sponsor.
Announced today, Sinkewitz's positive "A" test has already prompted German broadcaster ARD to temporarily suspend its Tour coverage. Even graver consequences for German cycling could lie ahead, with Frommert conceding that he "couldn't rule out any decision" regarding the team's future. "After the Tour we're all sit around a table and calmly, reasonably discuss what the best course of action is," Frommert added. T-Mobile's current sponsorship deal, thought to be worth over ten million euros, is due to expire in 2010.
If Frommert hardly exuded optimism, the man whose stage victory in Le Grand Bornand at the weekend has made him the team's new talisman, Linus Gerdemann, encouraged fans not to abandon the sport. Gerdemann said that confirmation of Sinkewitz's failed test would be "another big blow for the sport" but also proof that new, beefed up doping controls are working.
"It's definitely not a good thing but it's also about time that we got back on the right track," Sinkewitz told journalists after finishing in 93 rd place in Marseille to retain 16th position on general classification. "If riders haven't got the message then it's right that they get excluded. I can't say yet if Patrick was stupid or dishonest or what. I only got the news ten minutes before the start of the stage."
Of ARD's decision to stop their Tour coverage, Gerdemann said: "It's terrible but I must say that I find it strange. Idon't understand it: a year ago, I was interviewed on ARD and said that I hadn't been tested once out of competition all year; now I am tested and the system starts to work yet they pull out."
Earlier in the day, the team's managers seemed almost shell-shocked as they arrived at the stage start in Tallard. News of Sinkewitz's failed test had only reached the T-Mobile team bus as it made its way to Tallard just before 11 o' clock.
Brought in to revamp and rehabilitate the team after Jan Ullrich's exclusion from last year's Tour, American millionaire Bob Stapleton has overseen the introduction of T-Mobile's radical internal testing program. This morning Stapleton was asked whether that program ought to have caught Sinkewitz before the German Federation caught up with him in an out of competition test in June. "We don't do the kind of test which would detect testosterone, because there was a belief among the teams that, if internal dope tests were used, some times might allow their riders to take drugs up to a certain level. If anything, I think this validates that dope tests should be done independently and not by the team," Stapleton said.
"The solution is not what is done in individual teams but what's done across the board," he continued. "At the moment there are some riders who are tested a lot, and some who are hardly tested at all. The only reason that teams are taking the initiative themselves is that there are gaps in test procedures and they are trying to fill them themselves".
Another member of the T-Mobile management, directeur sportif, Valerio Piva, admitted that some riders, including members of his team, might have found it hard to readjust when new measures and new mentalities were phased in after Operacion Puerto.
"There was a certain mentality which prevailed for a number of years in cycling, and there was always going to be a difficult transitional period," Piva told Bikeradar.com. "We have to educate the youngsters and make them realise that they can win without doping. I really believe that's the case, with enough quality, enough suffering and enough sacrifices. The trouble is that they worry about what other riders and other teams are doing. They think 'If they're doing it, I need to do it as well to keep up'. Some of them lack the confidence in their ability to compete clean."