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Andy Rihs, the owner of the AR Cycling AG company that runs the Phonak team, has announced that the squad will be disbanded at the end of this season in the wake of a series of doping scandals. "As a passionate cyclist, I am bitterly disappointed that the sport of cycling apparently has become a synonym for doping," Rihs said in a stament released at a press release in Zurich on Tuesday.
The release also confirmed the end of negotiations to bring the financial company iShares in as a replacement sponsor for Phonak next season. Rihs indicated the positive test registered by Tour de France winner Floyd Landis had been the last straw for him after a string of doping affairs over the past three seasons.
"I truly regret this development and it has brought me to the decision of disbanding the Phonak Cycling Team per the end of 2006," Rihs explained. "We looked for solutions, talked day and night... and now I've made my decision, I'm pulling out. I'm doing something I've never done before in my business career - abandoning."
After Phonak were nearly excluded from the ProTour at the start of 2005 following doping scandals involving leading riders Oscar Camenzind, Tyler Hamilton and Santiago Perez, Rihs brought in a new management team headed by John Lelangue, who came in from Tour de France organisers ASO. However, the scandals have continued this season, with Landis just the most high profile of them.
"Three weeks ago, we were the winners of the Tour de France, we were overjoyed. The sponsors were queuing up to join us. And then suddenly this blow," said Rihs, who pledged to help the team's employees to find new jobs.
One of the first of the team's riders to comment on the news was Lelangue's best friend and Landis's right-hand man at the Tour, Axel Merckx. The Belgian had committed to riding for another year with Phonak and told La Dernire Heure "I want to stick with that decision. If there is a chance I can extend my career I would still like to do one more year."
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