T-Mobile, the mobile phone division of German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom, said Tuesday it was ending its sponsorship of a major cycling team after a succession of doping scandals. But the men's and women's teams will continue under Team High Road, according to the team owners.
"We have decided to take this step to distance ourselves and the T-Mobile brand from the latest doping revelations in sport and especially in cycling," T-Mobile boss Hamid Akhavan said in a statement. "This was a difficult decision given our long history of support for professional cycling and the efforts of Bob Stapleton in managing the team in 2007. We will continue to fulfil our obligations to the fight against doping, to which we contribute a significant amount of resources."
16 year association
The T-Mobile team, formerly known as Deutsche Telekom, is one of the leading names of the sport but has been rocked in recent years by allegations that its cyclists used drugs.
The team sacked its highest profile rider, the 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich, in July 2006 amid allegations he was involved in a Spanish doping network.
A former Telekom team physio, Jef d'Hont, has alleged that he injected Ullrich with the banned blood booster erythropoietin (EPO). His allegations led to doping confessions from former Telekom riders Erik Zabel and 1996 Tour winner Bjarne Riis of Denmark. Ullrich has retired from cycling but continues to protest his innocence.
More recently, T-Mobile also sacked German rider Patrik Sinkewitz in July this year after abnormal levels of testosterone were found in his blood. Sinkewitz was given a one-year ban this month and has admitted using drugs.
T-Mobile had said in August it would continue to sponsor the team bearing its name until 2010 to give the "consistency and stability the sport greatly needs", but has now decided to end its 16-year association with professional cycling with immediate effect.
Men and women's teams to continue
Despite T-Mobile pulling out, Bob Stapleton's management company High Road Sports has said that the elite men's and women's teams will continue racing in 2008 as 'Team High Road'.
"High Road Sports, Inc. holds a ProTour Team License and will seek authorization of the change in the team's identity and operations from the governing body, the UCI. High Road and its subsidiaries own the infrastructure of both teams," the company said in a statement.
Stapleton called T-Mobile's decision to end its involvement a "challenge", but one that he was prepared to face. "We will review and adapt our operations, and continue to advance our leadership position in athletic success and commitment to clean and fair sport that began during our work with T-Mobile," he said. "We have an outstanding international roster of exciting young talent backed by proven veteran leadership for 2008" adds Stapleton. "We will likely be the youngest team in the ProTour and believe that together, these athletes can shape the future of the sport with their talent and commitment."
Team High Road intends to race in the Tour Down Under in Australia next January.
© BikeRadar and AFP 2007