Cycling team Unibet.com confirmed Wednesday they will be disbanding at the end of the season after the Swedish internet betting company which sponsors them pulled the plug.
Unibet, which includes Australian sprinter Baden Cooke, have been left out of many top ProTour races this year despite being part of cycling's elite circuit, which is organised by the International Cycling Union (UCI).
The team represents an internet betting company, a business which is against the law in France. It is partly because of this that major race organisers, including Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) which runs the Tour de France, have sidelined them. But the team have also found themselves pawns in an ongoing conflict between UCI and ASO over the ProTour series. The UCI expanded the teams involved to 20, while race organisers wanted the number limited to 18.
"We were expecting this. Unfortunately we can now tell the (26) riders to find a new team next season," said general manager Koen Terryn. "It's a pity. Our sponsor had planned to invest 32 million euros for four seasons. But we became the victim of the war between ASO and the International Cycling Union.
"We received a ProTour licence, which turned out to be worthless. We couldn't compete in any of the big Tours and were sidelined from several important ProTour races. The result: 55 people will find themselves out of work in several weeks time."
Unibet.com's announcement follows that of the Discovery Channel team of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and current winner Alberto Contador of Spain. The American outfit are also disbanding at the end of the season because of a lack of sponsorship.
"Unibet's departure is a new blow for cycling. We saw it coming but there is always hope. It's a disaster," said the team's Belgian rider Gorik Gardeyn. "This season we could race, then we couldn't, then yes and so on. (It is) hard to build something under such circumstances."
Unibet sporting director Hilaire Van der Schueren added: "It's time that powerful bodies like ASO, the UCI and the ProTour do some soul searching. Because in the current climate other teams will call it quits."
© AFP 2007