German pro road teams face extinction

Milram mulls pulling plug

German dairy company Milram said it is unlikely to renew its sponsorship of its top cycling team after their mutual contract expires at the end of this year.

The image of cycling in Germany has suffered badly from doping controversies, and the recent global economic crisis has also prompted many sponsors to think twice about investing their money.

Milram spokeswoman Godja Soennichsen explained: "As things currently stand, a renewal of the contract is not something we're considering."

It means that if Milram walks away from the sport, there will be no German teams in cycling's professional elite.

Team chief Gerry van Gerwen, however, said he will fight to find a German sponsor.

"Germany is such a big country, and it's bang in the middle of Europe," said the Dutchman, who has fixed the second rest day of this year's Tour de France as the cut-off point to find a new sponsor.

T-Mobile, where 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich was team leader, was Germany's, and one of the world's, biggest cycling teams before it fell apart in 2007 in the wake of a series of doping allegations.

Gerolsteiner suffered a similar fate, before folding at the end of 2008.

Stefan Schumacher, a double stage winner at the 2008 Tour de France, as well as former teammate Bernhard Kohl, of Austria, tested positive for doping at that year's race.

Milram was created in 2006, with Italian sprint king Alessandro Petacchi as its leader, to be supported by German legend Erik Zabel.

However even the squeaky-clean Petacchi, a record stage winner at the Grand Tours and a former Milan-San Remo champion, was snared for doping.

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© AFP 2010

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