The HTC-Highroad team will end its association with professional cycling at the end of the season, drawing to an end its five-year spell in the sport.
The squad has consistently been ranked as the number one team in the world, but struggled to attract new sponsors. Team owner Bob Stapleton today announced that the squad would fold at the end of the year and encouraged riders from both the men's and women's teams to find new homes for 2012.
However, Stapleton held out hope that the women's team could continue.
Stapleton had pushed the search for a sponsor to the line, even going beyond the UCI’s transfer window opening on August 1st and although he had a sponsor lined up, the interested party pulled out of negotiations at the weekend.
“We went public with our sponsorship search just before the Tour. We were frustrated by the indecision of our title sponsor HTC who, after many months of assurances, had not come forward with a commitment to the team. That indecision remains a mystery to me,” Stapleton told the press in a phone conference.
Down to the wire
The squad had one of its most successful Tours, with Mark Cavendish winning the points classification and five stages, and Tony Martin claiming the stage victory in the Grenoble time trial, but at the same time Stapleton was honest about the uncertainty surrounding the team's future.
Stapleton used the Tour as a breeding ground for potential replacements, consistently reminding the media that the team had generated in the region of $400 million in media exposure during its tenure in the sport. Meetings took place in Grenoble, Paris, Amsterdam, Chicago, Atlanta and New York with a number of international companies and the team was approached by several different squads to discuss the possibility of negotiating a tricky merger.
"We had an agreement in place in principle with a new partner which would have given us a enough funds to operate the team at the same level of the last four years. This deal abruptly collapsed on Sunday night, when I received an email and subsequent phone call from our intended partner."
Stapleton would not name the partner, nor disclose just how close or far they were to signing an agreement. Final talks with HTC broke down on Wednesday night, while hope of a possible last ditch merger failed Thursday morning.
"That led us to the conclusion to release our athletes and staff to pursue their career options," said an emotional Stapleton.
Stapleton, a former CEO of the telecom company VoiceStream Wireless and member of the T-Mobile international board of directors, came into the sport as a unique force in team management. More businessman than cycling insider, Stapleton had made his name in the sport by supporting an American women's team before being elevated to manager of the T-Mobile men's team at the end of 2006.
He formed Highroad Sports in 2007, taking elements of the old Telekom team but inspiring a fresh more ethically correct and transparent ethos. Some of the sport's most successful and exciting talents passed through the team's doors: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Mark Renshaw and Mark Cavendish to name but a few.
"What led to the team's remarkable success was the team's remarkable spirit that we had in the organisation. This year we'll record our 500th win and we sit at 484 wins now, over 50 grand tour stages wins and a remarkable amount of success.
"Our goal was to bring forward athletes and management that could lead the sport forward and although this is a sad call in some respects, I do feel like we fundamentally changed the sport. Some of the most interesting athletes in the sport have Highroad DNA."
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.