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News feature: August 10, 2007

T-Mobile's continued survival assured

Deutsche Telekom's announcement that it would honor its sponsoring contract for the T-Mobile Teams through 2010 has met with approval around Germany, from riders to management of T-Mobile and other teams. Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer covers the nature of T-Mobile's renewed commitment.

T-Mobile team general manager Bob Stapleton
Photo ©: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews
(Click for larger image)

"I am very pleased that T-Mobile remains a committed partner," said T-Mobile men's team manager Bob Stapleton. "We are sharing the same goals, and now we are redoubling our efforts to build a solid future for the sport."

"The challenge for us as a team is two-fold – to do the very best we can to be a clean and successful team; and to push for real and credible change within the sport in order to restore credibility to it," he continued. "Both of these challenges have been bigger than I could have ever possibly imagined. I think the state of the sport right now, and the events surrounding the Tour, make that clear."

When Stapleton took over last fall as general manager of the team, T-Mobile announced that it would extend its sponsorship through 2010. The "new" team prided itself on its anti-doping program, but was caught by surprise this summer by Patrik Sinkewitz' positive testosterone doping test. At that point, the sponsor announced that it would have to reconsider its position.

The American noted that "This is a critical time for the sport right now. The need for change is undeniable. Change in the sport is really only possible with partners like T-Mobile. T-Mobile's long history in the sport, its credibility, its resources and the power that it has built in the sport are fundamental to create change. So I am very excited to continue the challenge with T-Mobile and wish to thank the Board and everyone who supported that decision."

Sport Director Rolf Aldag noted that the decision will allow the team to continue its work in developing young riders. "We have a young team, with athletes that have signed up for a clean and transparent programme - and wish to continue in that direction," he said on the team's website, "It is now our task to develop young talents Linus Gerdemann, Gerald Ciolek and Mark Cavendish and give them the best tools, coaching and environment to reach their full potential."

Stapleton and 24 year old Linus Gerdemann
Photo ©: Shane Stokes/Cyclingnews
(Click for larger image)

Gerdemann, who won a stage in the Tour de France and wore the leader's jersey for a day, appeared at the team's press conference Thursday. The 24 year-old called it "good news for the team and everyone who is associated with it. It is a huge relief, since it was not in the least obvious that the decision would fall this way, in light of the events of the past, with all the doping cases."

The team is now even more motivated than ever to do well in the Deutschland Rundfahrt, he said. "We want to show the German fans that German cycling lives."

There is also another T-Mobile Team, which is even more successful than the men's team. That is the women's team, run by Kristy Scrymgeour. "We are very pleased with the decision of T-Mobile to continue backing the team. It is fantastic news. The program Bob has set up is excellent. It's an enjoyable environment to work in," she told Cyclingnews.

She continued, "In addition to the goal of clean sport, the positive attitude towards women's cycling within the team as a whole is very motivating and promising for the sport."

In announcing the company's decision, Christian Frommert, vice president of Sponsoring Communications, said that Deutsche Telekom, the parent firm of T-Mobile, had held serious discussions over the last two weeks before reaching its decision to remain with the sport. "The team led by Bob Stapleton is on the right track in the battle for clean and fair sport. Pulling the plug on the sponsorship now would only undo the good work of the team to date, and send out a false signal that the fight against doping could not be won."

"This is a critical time for the sport right now. The need for change is undeniable."

-Bob Stapleton, T-Mobile Men's Team Manager.

Frommert said that the sponsor and the team had reached a new agreement with three main points concerning doping.

First, "for the first time in the history of the sport, the athletes and team management will make a financial contribution to tackle doping themselves." They will all contribute a certain, publicly unspecified, percentage of their salaries to a fund to combat doping. T-Mobile will add the necessary funds to make one million Euros. It was not announced exactly where the funds would be used or donated.

Secondly, the team will support expanded testing and better test methods. This means that the riders must make themselves available for more controls and studies by independent experts. The testing rules must be tightened and the new testing will be along the lines of what "has been done with both DNA and blood volume testing in 2007".

Last, and definitely not least, the company "reserves the right to immediately terminate the commitment in the event of further doping cases." Stapleton acknowledged that one more doping case like Sinkewitz' and everything would be over. "That is the risk we are taking, and we have agreed to it," Frommert would not quantify exactly what kind of doping case would convince the company to leave, but just that any cases would be looked at on an individual basis.

T-Mobile women's team
Photo ©: John Veage
(Click for larger image)

Doping is an insidious problem, he noted, which the Sinkewitz case showed. "No matter how much money and effort and thought you put into an antidoping program, when someone wants to cheat, they will cheat. That astonished all of us, and we have learned from it."

What is most needed, Stapleton said, is to change the thinking of the athletes themselves. "It was very clear with the incidents around the Tour that the problem with doping is not the consequences, but the belief that the athletes can dope and get away with it. More testing and better testing across the entire sport is what, I personally believe will change the behavior in cycling. The odds of getting caught have been very small -- but there is a 'new math' now in the sport."

"It is critical that we push this now and next year, to make fundamental changes in the sport," he concluded. "There is hope in the sport, and we have to change the attitude towards doping among the athletes."

Frommert noted that the team's current antidoping program is on the right track. "We pay 200,000 Euros to the NADA, 50,000 of which are for stronger training controls of T-Mobile riders. One of those out-of-competition tests caught Sinkewitz, so yes, we think this works."

The other two ProTour teams with German sponsors were also pleased with the news. Both Gerolsteiner and Nordmilch, the parent sponsor of Team Milram, have said that they are reviewing their sponsoring contracts and whether to renew them. Hans-Michael Holczer told Cyclingnews, "This is a good decision for German cycling. T-Mobile stands behind its team in a difficult situation and is obviously prepared to take on a lot of responsibility."

Milram also had good news from its sponsor. Following T-Mobile's announcement, Nordmilch said that it would continue it engagement until the end of 2009.

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