Rabobank pull plug on cycling
One of professional cycling's biggest sponsors have pulled out of the sport due to the crisis sparked by the Lance Armstrong doping revelations.
- Related Content
Dutch bank Rabobank, the principal sponsor of one of the top teams in cycling, will end their 17-year involvement on December 31.
The announcement comes a day after the team suspended their Spanish rider Carlos Barredo after the International Cycling Union (UCI) launched a doping case against him.
Former team member Levi Leipheimer, one of 11 former team-mates of Armstrong who testified against him to the US anti-doping agency (USADA), said he took EPO while with Rabobank assisted by their team doctor. He also testified that other members of the Rabobank team used banned substances.
British cyclist David Millar criticised the bank's decision, saying on Twitter: "Dear Rabobank, you were part of the problem. How dare you walk away from your young clean guys who are part of the solution. Sickening."
The UCI said in a statement: "In light of the difficult period, namely the high public interest in past doping issues and perhaps a more recent action taken by the UCI against a rider of the team, the UCI understands the context which has led to this decision being reached.
"Despite inevitable and sometimes painful consequences, the UCI reaffirms its commitment to the fight against doping and full transparency about potential anti-doping rule violations."
UCI president Pat McQuaid added: "Cycling is grateful for the many years of successful partnership with Rabobank, which have been beneficial for all. Its involvement has changed the lives of numerous athletes who in turn have undoubtedly contributed to make Rabobank one of the most recognised brands in sport worldwide."
USADA last week published an extensive report into Armstrong, concluding that he engaged in "serial cheating" and his US Postal Service team ran "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".
Bert Bruggink, a member of Rabobank's managing board, said: "It is with pain in our heart, but for the bank this is an inevitable decision.
"We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future."
A statement on rabosport.com confirmed that the firm will continue with its sponsorship deals in amateur cycling but will sever ties with both their men's and women's professional teams.
The Rabobank team have accrued 23 Tour de France stage wins since their sponsorship began in 1996, most recently by Luis Leon Sanchez in Saint-Flour in 2011.
They looked set for overall victory in 2007 when Michael Rasmussen won nine stages, but the Dane was then withdrawn from the race and sacked by the team after lying about his whereabouts when he missed drug tests in the build-up to the tour. Rasmussen served a two-year ban, returning in July 2009.
Their current women's team includes Marianne Vos, who won Olympic road race gold for Holland ahead of Great Britain's Lizzie Armitstead in London this summer.
Bruggink continued: "Cycling is a beautiful sport, which millions of Dutch people enjoy and a large number of those Dutch people are clients of Rabobank.
"But our decision stands: we are pulling out of professional cycling. It is painful. Not just for Rabobank, but especially for the enthusiasts and the cyclists who are not to blame in this."