Liberty Seguros pulls plug on Saiz!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 11.00pm
The doping scandal currently shaking Spanish cycling to its core has claimed its biggest victim to d
Liberty Seguros has sensationally announced that it is withdrawing its sponsorship of the professional cycling team managed by Manolo Saiz as a result of the Spanish team manager's involvement in the "Operacion Puerto" doping investigation. The Boston-based insurance company said in a press release it had made decision in line with a zero-tolerance policy towards doping instituted after Roberto Heras's positive test for EPO at last year's Vuelta a Espana. "In November 2005, as a result of the suspension of a rider for doping (Heras - Ed), we amended our contract of sponsorship to make in more severe in terms of anti-doping," said the communique. "The implications of Manolo Saiz's detention are highly alarming: they damage our name and cycling's name," the statement continued. The press release went on to explain that Liberty Seguros will honour financial obligations to Active Bay, the company which owns the team, up to the current date. The announcement comes just hours after Liberty Seguros directeur sportif Neil Stephens played down the effects of the scandal on the team's moral at the Giro d'Italia. Speaking in Sillian, Austria, before the start of stage 18 of the Giro, Stephens said that he was "surprised" by Saiz's arrest on Tuesday but that the team "was concentrating on the job in hand". The Australian added that he "didn't know" Fuentes, the doctor suspected to be the mastermind of the blood-doping cabal. As the news of Liberty Seguros's exit sent shockwaves through the cycling world this afternoon, the six representatives of the team competing in the Giro rode on either in ignorance or defiance. Giampaolo Caruso, who began the day 14th in general classification, had said yesterday "Of course I'm upset: [Saiz] has been like a father to me over the last years." Liberty Seguros directeur sportif Marino Lejarreta said during today's stage that he still hoped that the team would finish the race in Milan on Sunday. Minutes later, Giro leader Ivan Basso was seen giving Caruso a consolatory slap on the back. Contacted in France this afternoon after returning from a training ride, Liberty team leader Alexandre Vinokourov said that he "knew nothing of the announcement". But Vinokourov added "I still want to do the Tour, with Liberty or another team".

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