The sport of cycling’s image is tarnished. At least for now.
Team Discovery may have won the sport’s most prestigious race, but they are disbanding at the end of the season. In February, Discovery Channel announced this would be their last year of sponsoring the cycling team that was previously the US Postal Service Team, the team Lance Armstrong belonged to when he won a record number of Tours de France (7 wins in a row). And with winning 8 of the last 9 Tours, at least the team is going out on top.
The disbanding of Team Discovery is certainly a sign of troubles in the world of cycling, but on top of that it is a sad note for American Cycling. Sure, the team isn’t made up of only Americans, but the work of Lance Armstrong and the team has given cycling a bigger chance in the United States. It propelled a cyclist’s name into American homes and hearts. The team’s success helped the sport find new fans in a country where cycling isn’t often thought of. Then again, it’s also the only International Cycling Union’s ProTour team based in the US. Armstrong’s first team, and the first American squad to race in the Tour de France, quit cycling in 1996 when they couldn’t find a new sponsor after losing Motorola.
It seems cycling’s current bout with scandals and controversies is too much for companies to want to sponsor a team; after all they might be a bunch of dopers. Even though the team owned by San Francisco’s Tailwind Sports (partly owned by Lance Armstrong) had been in talks with several potential sponsors, all the recent doping allegations have made for an environment not conductive to investment. The team’s owners realized it was a difficult spot to be in and chose to step aside instead; a decision made more difficult after the team and individual wins in the Tour de France last month.
A cycling team needs the funds of a sponsor to exist. The teams earn money not from ticket sales or TV rights, but from sponsors. Unlike companies who buy naming rights of stadiums or sponsor teams in other sports, a cycling team’s name is the sponsor and therefore a riskier investment. The Austin, TX based team was also looking for a three year commitment of $15 million annually. But doping scandals aren’t the only problems sponsors have to worry about. Last month it was clear that leadership within the sport couldn’t get along with the governing body of the Tour de France (ASO) saying they didn’t want to work with the International Cycling Union (UCI) next year.
The team will still ride in the Tour of Spain and the first Tour of Missouri later this year. However, the 27 cyclists of Team Discovery will need to find new teams for the 2008 season. While none of the riders on the team have ever failed a drug test, they are not without suspicions. This year’s Tour winner Alberto Contador held a press conference Friday in Spain to deny the allegations that have plagued him recently – he was one of the Spanish cyclists cleared during the Puerto Operation with new accusations emerging following his Tour win. Armstrong had dodged allegations throughout his career. Team Discovery even fired its lead rider this year, Ivan Basso, when he was involved in doping investigations.
Armstrong said he is confident cycling will not only continue but will thrive, but that it won’t happen in the next year. Let’s hope he’s right.Powered by Sidelines