First Edition Cycling News for August 11, 2007
Edited by Sue George and Greg Johnson
Tailwind discusses end of Team Discovery Channel
By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The cycling world was changed Friday as the management company for the Discovery Channel team, Tailwind Sports, announced it would not be continuing its search for a new title sponsor for the 2008 season. Speculation ran wild as to the reasons behind the decision - doping, money, both? Later in the day the management assembled the key players behind the decision for an ad hoc press conference call to give the rationale behind the decision - including Tailwind principles Bill Stapleton and Bart Knaggs, as well as Discovery boss Johan Bruyneel and a rare appearance by Lance Armstrong, who is part owner of the team.
The obvious first questions were why, and why now, having just won the Tour de France for the eighth time in nine years? Bill Stapleton led the responses for the group in this area, placing the blame on other teams and the general environment within cycling, not with the company. "We made a determination in our own minds," he said. "We can control what goes on in our own team but we can't control what goes on in the sport and with other teams. We couldn't in good conscious make a recommendation to a company to spend the sort of money that would be required to sponsor the team, in the current environment."
"There are all kinds of issues in the sport, doping and others," said Stapleton. "It's not an environment conducive to a lot of investment."
An obvious follow-up to that statement was the recent announcement by T-Mobile saying they are continuing with their sponsorship, in light of the recent controversies. "We are not trying to send any message to other sponsors - we wish everyone the best," said Stapleton. "We had to make an individual decision and we reached a different conclusion than other people. Maybe those other people are European-based or have different reasons for being in the sport."
Armstrong also commented on this. "It's not a statement," he said. "We are not trying to slap T-Mobile for their additions to programmes and plans, or anybody else."
Stapleton went on to say that doping was not the only problem that came up when talking to potential sponsors. "Obviously the doping scandals plague, there has been an issue this year with the teams. We have experiences the rise and fall of AIGCP, and there is not a cohesive ownership and leadership group right now."
We are walking away
Stapleton and Armstrong both commented that this decision was not for a lack of a sponsor, but that it was a stand alone decision in the best interests of a sponsor. "End of the day, it is a great marketing investment, when you look at the metrics and hospitality, you can present to a sponsor," said Stapleton. "We went in to the market at a time when almost every day there was new news regarding doping and admissions or disputes within the sport, and those became an issue in the talks."
"I think we had a firm commitment for three years," said Armstrong. "Based on my impression I think we were 90% there. We are walking away from that today. We are not comfortable managing and running a team right now. Johan is retiring on top of that, and I am going to go and focus on my foundation, so we are not your guys right now."
"I would add the moment it crystalized was when we were at the Tour," said Armstrong, focusing on his well known disagreements with the organiser of the Tour de France. "Taking aside from all the politics and polyemics, the disagreements between ASO and UCI, with the ASO talking about perhaps taking it back to national teams. If something like that were to happen... . If you get a company to invest and then all of a sudden the ASO decides that it should go back to national teams, their investment goes to zero. Issues like that up in the air it is too risky to ask people for that kind of money."
To read the complete feature, click here.
Discovery bike sponsor Trek looks ahead
By Sue George
With the news of the Discovery Team's demise after not finding a replacement title sponsor, Trek faced the end of its run as sponsor of one of the most successful pro cycling teams. Trek not only sponsors the team in its current form, but was also the bicycle and component sponsor in the years the team raced under the title sponsorship of US Postal Service.
"We're disappointed, but its par for the course considering the state of the sport," said Scott Daubert, Trek Road Bike Brand Manager.
"We've had an excellent experience with that sponsorship. We enjoyed benefits from their race wins, and we've also grown as a company and made better products as a result of the team and what they did with our equipment. Our bikes, our wheels, our components are better because of the high standards of the team." The company worked closely with riders like Lance Armstrong to develop a range of products; perhaps the most famous is the Trek Madone road bike.
The American bicycle and component manufacturer looked back fondly at its experience, but it wasn't wasting time lamenting the news. "Our initial reaction is to look for another program to sponsor," said Daubert.
Sponsorship of a team which won eight victories, seven under Lance Armstrong and one under Alberto Contador, at the Tour de France could be a tough act to follow, so Trek isn't hurrying to any conclusions.
"We'll be pretty selective," said Daubert. "We'll take a break in short term. It'll be hard to find team that does things as well as Johan Bruyneel and his team did, but we hope to find some team that can do as well as Johan."
"We've talked about both options," said Daubert, who elaborated on the choices that have been discussed internally. Trek can either sit out of the pro road cycling scene for a little while or find another program and hop on board.
"No one has made a decision yet on what we will do. We don't think it's worthwhile to rush into anything new," said Daubert. "If there's still something out there that fits the bill, then we'll go with it. Nothing's obvious now, but we're open to whatever comes our way."
When asked if the young team Slipstream, which has recently signed several high profile riders, might be a potential new sponsorship partner, Daubert replied, "Slipstream is a candidate for a components sponsor, but most likely not with the frame. I think they have an existing deal and we're not a home-wrecker company. If there's an agreement that stands, we don't mess it up."
"There's nothing on the table at this point. We're not in negotiations with them or anyone," finished Daubert.
Slipstream director Jonathan Vaughters confirmed to Cyclingnews that existing frame sponsor Felt would continue with the team into 2008.
Bruyneel leaves while on top
By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
Director Sporif Johan Bruyneel announced Friday that he will be retiring from team directing at the end of the 2007 season. "The difficulties in securing a sponsor [for Team Discovery Channel] have been an influence," he admitted. "We decided at the end it wasn't the right time to bring in a big company to pay a lot of money and not be able to guarantee anything. It's an ideal moment to go out on top."
Bruyneel also said that the decision to end now was in an effort to be fair to everyone involved. "If we wanted to keep going we could keep trying to get a sponsor until the end of September," he said. "We wanted to be fair to everyone, and if we made a decision in the back of our mind we have to be honest and tell everybody as soon as possible. We focused on the Tour de France, and 11 days after we communicated to everyone that there would not be a team next year. I feel it is fair timing and I am confident that most of our riders will go away with Discovery stamped on their back, and am sure they are wanted on the market."
When asked specifically what he plans to do after the season ends, Bruyneel said, "I'm retiring from being a director, but I'm pretty sure I'll be doing something else. I don't know what right now. I've always made decisions like that in my life. When I turned professional, I made the decision in one day. When I retired as a cyclist I did it from one day to the other. Three weeks after, I met Lance and became the director of US Postal."
"Personally I don't feel sad about it, it's a sad thing for the sport," said Bruyneel. "There is a time for everything and I'll stay with all of the good memories and I'm proud of what we have done."
Astana on the brink?
Biver summoned by ProTour President
The UCI said in a statement today that it has summoned Astana team manager Marc Biver to explain the three A samples of three Astana riders that tested positive recently.
Astana may be facing a suspension. Last September, the International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT) met to discuss amendments to the Code of Ethics applied to the ProTour. The UCI ProTeams committed to suspending the whole of their activities in the case of two positive anti-doping results and/or abnormal blood controls over a period of 12 months.
The offending team was to be suspended as a whole for eight days upon knowledge of a second positive doping test, with the suspension beginning during the first day of the next ProTour race. In the event of three positive tests or abnormal blood controls (over a period of 24 months), the suspension period increased to four weeks (including Grand Tours), and a fourth positive test was to be cause for withdrawal of the ProTour license of the implicated team, pending approval by the UCI. Cyclingnews does not know if the ProTour Council adopted the resolution, and a representative of the UCI could not be reached for comment.
Astana fired Matthias Kessler, the team's first doping positive, following a positive result for testosterone before the Fleche Wallonne.
Eddy Mazzoleni, who finished third in the Giro d'Italia, was investigated by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) for his involvement in 2004's Oil for Drugs case. Increasing pressure caused him to annul his contract after the team had already suspended him. He was also scrutinized for 'abnormally low' hormone levels in blood and urine tests after the Giro d'Italia stage to Monte Zoncolan on May 30.
Star racer Alexander Vinokourov also tested positive during Stage 16 of the Tour de France for homologus blood doping. The day after, the entire team withdrew from the Tour. Homologus doping involves the transfer of blood from another person. Vinokourov was later fired from Astana following the positive B sample test.
Andrej Kashechkin also tested positive for a homologus blood transfusion following an unexpected control on August 1 in Belek, Turkey. The rider was suspended effective immediately while waiting for the analysis of the B sample.
Thus far, only four total pro cyclists, two pairs of team-mates have tested positive for homologous blood doping. The other pair of team-mates was Santiago Perez and Tyler Hamilton of the Phonak team, which eventually folded after Floyd Landis also tested positive for testosterone. The two Phonak blood doping positives happened in 2004.
Astana's summons comes one day after T-Mobile and Milram, two teams taking strong anti-doping stances, announced they would continue sponsorship and the same day that Discovery Channel announced its team is disbanding at the end of 2007. Discovery Channel suffered the departure of Ivan Basso, who admitted attempted doping, and Tour winner Alberto Contador is now under investigation by WADA.
UCI commends T-Mobile and Milram team sponsors
On a positive note, the UCI expressed pleasure in response to the news that German companies T-Mobile and Milram have decided to continue their commitment to cycling despite difficult times for the sport in Germany recently.
"The UCI congratulates both companies for their responsible attitude and solidarity towards the whole family of cycling," said a UCI statement Friday. "The trust they have shown represents a solid basis upon which to support the common efforts of all stakeholders in cycling to progress towards a more stable future."
The UCI statement called T-Mobile and Milram "very important partners," especially in light of the fact that Germany will host the UCI Road World Championships in September.
"The decisions of T-Mobile and Milram are a further signal of the determination with which cycling is battling a very unfavourable situation," said Pat McQuaid. He added rather positively that he was "convinced that the World Championships in Stuttgart will allow our magnificent sport to restore its image, both in Germany and the rest of the world."
Discovery's White to Slipstream /Chipotle
Soon-to-be-retired Australian professional rider Matt White will be joining Team Slipstream/Chipotle's ranks as one of the team's European directors in 2008. White will join current Slipstream director Johnny Weltz in running the squad's expanded European program.
White began his career in 1992 with the Australian National Team. He's raced for US Postal Service, Cofidis, and Discovery Channel this past season. "It's a hard decision to retire for any professional athlete, but my decision was made a lot easier when I was given the opportunity to be involved in the Slipstream/Chipotle program." White is impressed by the team's ethical strategy and its mix of youth and experience on and off the bike. He predicts the team "will adapt quickly in becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of cycling."
An excited White hopes to bring his passion for the sport with him to Slipstream. "With 12 years in the pro peloton, I have worked for many great champions and seen firsthand when a team works dismally and also run like clockwork. The majority of our team is young and in the process of developing their strengths and skills in the super competitive world of European cycling. Being now surrounded now with team-mates of the caliber of [David] Millar, [David] Zabriskie, [Magnus] Backstedt, [Christian] Vande Velde and [Julian] Dean, I know with proper leadership these young riders will thrive on the new challenges they will face."
Slipstream Sports President & CEO Jonathan Vaughters commented on White's signing, "Matt has always been a witty and unique member of the peloton. I imagine that he'll become an even more influential part of international cycling now that he's in a leadership role."
Tour of Elk Grove continues August 'cash-teriums'
By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Chicago, Illinois
In just its second year the Tour of Elk Grove, located in the Chicago suburbs, boasts a prize purse that rivals most road stage races -- but with just two criteriums and a short prologue on August 11-12. The $152,000 on offer over the three 'stages,' $60,000 of which goes to the overall winner, should bring a wealth of the fastest racers in the land -- particularly since the USPRO criterium championship is the following weekend in nearby Downers Grove.
The race is also bringing a handful of European and Europe-based American riders, namely Predictor-Lotto's Chris Horner and Freddie Rodriguez. Rodriguez should be right at home on the flat and fast 'L' shaped course, though it will likely be a few laps to get used to the American style of racing -- especially with so much money on the line. Horner comes to the race having finished fifteenth in the Tour de France last month. While about the farthest thing from an American crit, the opening prologue will suit him well, having finished only 53 seconds behind the world champion in the Tour prologue.
Two Europeans that should be honorary citizens by now, just by the sheer amount of time they spend here racing criteriums, are Jacob Nielsen and Kasper Klostergaard. Both have raced Superweek and other races in the States for years and have no problems knocking elbows while going around tight corners, eight times per lap.
Not present this year, much to the dismay of the organiser and local fans, are Team CSC's Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie. A Chicago native, Vande Velde recently became a father and will stay home with his new family addition. Zabriskie is still recovering from an injury sustained in the Tour and knows that crit racing is not the best medicine.
However, the domestic teams will be on-hand en force to cash in on another major pay day after last weekend's race in Charlotte, won by Health Net-Maxxis' Frank Pipp. Look for Pipp to be near the front again, having raced around here as an amateur for many years. Australian Hilton Clarke (Navigators Insurance) is on the start roster, but is rumored to be nursing an injury and not up to his full speed.
Looking at the rosters, it's clear the addition of the prologue time trial caused a few managers to think differently about their limited six-riders line-ups, such as Health Net running Aussie time trial champion Nathan O'Neill, Toyota-United with Chris Baldwin and Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada starting Mark Walters.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2007)