[Marxism] Lance Armstrong team disbands because of drug problems

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 11 07:10:45 MDT 2007


NY Times, August 11, 2007
Armstrong Team Falls With Cycling’s Image
By EDWARD WYATT and IAN AUSTEN

The cycling team of Lance Armstrong and of this year’s Tour de France 
winner is disbanding for lack of a sponsor, the latest evidence that the 
sport is collapsing under the weight of persistent doping problems.

The team, the Discovery Channel, has been one of the sport’s most 
successful franchises. The image crisis has turned even Armstrong into a 
pessimist about cycling’s short-term future.

Many of cycling’s best riders have failed drug tests or been linked to 
doping in recent years, and doping issues last month all but overwhelmed 
the sport’s marquee event, the Tour de France. For a sport whose teams 
enjoy no revenue from ticket sales or television rights, the resulting 
publicity has started to drain its lifeblood: the sponsors that spend 
millions of dollars to finance the teams.

Known for the past three years as Discovery Channel and before that as 
the United States Postal Service squad, the team is owned by Tailwind 
Sports, a San Francisco-based company that is partly owned by Armstrong. 
The only American team at cycling’s top rank, it has been searching for 
a new sponsor since February, when the parent of the Discovery Channel 
network decided not to renew its three-year contract.

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Armstrong and Bill 
Stapleton, the team’s general manager, said that they had been “90 
percent there” to securing a new sponsorship deal, but that the 
upheavals in the sport ultimately were too much to overcome.

“We finally concluded that we couldn’t in good conscience make a 
recommendation to a company to spend the sort of money that is 
necessary,” Stapleton said. The team wanted a $15 million annual 
commitment for three years.

Armstrong agreed. “There are too many questions in the sport,” he said, 
citing, in addition to the doping scandals, the poor relationship that 
was evident last month between the company that organizes the Tour de 
France and the International Cycling Union, the sport’s governing body, 
which oversees competition but does not control most of the sport’s top 
events.

The doping that has plagued the sport refers to the illegal ways 
athletes boost their supply of red blood cells before a competition as 
well as the use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids.

The Discovery/Postal Service team had no shortage of success: Armstrong 
won a record seven consecutive Tour de France titles, and this year’s 
winner, Alberto Contador of Spain, and the third-place finisher, Levi 
Leipheimer of the United States, wore Discovery jerseys.

And although none of its riders have ever failed a drug test, the 
Discovery team was not able to avoid the suspicions of doping that have 
beset the sport. Contador held a news conference in Spain yesterday to 
deny the doping allegations that plagued him even before his victory 
last month. Armstrong was dogged by similar allegations for much of his 
career, though he has never tested positive and has always denied 
doping. Discovery hired Ivan Basso to be its lead rider in December only 
to fire him in the spring after he became the target of a doping 
investigation.

Three riders for other teams in this year’s Tour de France tested 
positive during the race. In addition, Michael Rasmussen of Denmark was 
ejected by his own team while leading the race after the 16th stage. The 
team said he lied about his whereabouts after missing drug tests in the 
month before the race. Another rider failed a drug test before the race 
began. A third rider tested positive days after the race ended.

“It’s sad for cycling, and it’s certainly sad for American cycling,” 
Armstrong said. He added that while he believes the sport will go on and 
eventually will right itself, “I’m not confident that will happen in the 
next 12 months.”

The Discovery Channel team, which is participating in the Tour of 
Germany, will finish out its schedule of races this year, including the 
Tour of Spain in September. The team, including Contador, Leipheimer, 
and George Hincapie, will ride in the inaugural Tour of Missouri Sept. 
11-16.

Johan Bruyneel, the race director for the team through all of 
Armstrong’s victories, said yesterday that he planned to step away from 
the sport after having completed his most successful Tour de France, 
with Contador winning, Leipheimer third and the Discovery team capturing 
the award for the best team results in the race.

“It’s the end of an era,” he said. “Personally I don’t feel sad about 
it. I think it’s a sad thing for the sport. But I’m proud of what we’ve 
done.”

The Tailwind team, and its predecessors, has been involved in cycling 
since 1989 and is the only American team among the 20 in the 
International Cycling Union’s ProTour, the top level of professional 
cycling. But it is not the first major American cycling team to fold. 
The team that first employed Armstrong and was the first American squad 
at the Tour de France, under the name 7-Eleven, abandoned the sport in 
1996, unable to replace Motorola, which had become its sponsor.

Other companies have reconsidered their commitments, and as many as six 
have said they expect to end their sponsorships after the 2008 season. 
Earlier this week, T-Mobile, the mobile phone company that is part of 
the German company Deutsche Telekom, said it would continue to sponsor a 
team, but only after securing an agreement that it could end its support 
if any of its riders failed a drug test.

Bob Stapleton, the general manager of the T-Mobile team, who is not 
related to Discovery’s Stapleton, said companies that sponsor teams or 
buy stadium-naming rights in other sports rarely have the risk that 
sponsors of cycling teams have because their corporate names are not so 
closely tied to a team.

Jonathan Vaughters, the director of the Slipstream team, an American 
cycling team that is hoping to gain a wild-card entry to the Tour de 
France next year, said he believed that while the doping incidents 
looked bad now, they were creating a cleaner sport for the future.

Juliet Macur contributed
reporting.




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