HTC-Highroad owner Bob Stapleton has announced that the team will fold at the end of the season and all its riders are available for transfer after the US-based outfit failed to find a new sponsor.
Phone manufacturer HTC’s contract with the world’s number one team expires at the end of the current season and Stapleton has been unable to find a replacement backer, despite Mark Cavendish winning the green jersey at the Tour de France courtesy of five stage victories, while Tony Martin won the individual time trial.
Cavendish has been heavily linked to Team Sky and on Tuesday the 26-year-old refused to name which team he will ride for in 2012 despite revealing he has made a decision about this future.
However, Stapleton’s announcement paves the way for Cavendish to join the British outfit.
“We went public with our sponsorship search just before the Tour. We were frustrated by the indecision of our title sponsor HTC who, after many months of assurances, had not come forward with a commitment to the team. That indecision remains a mystery to me,” said Stapleton.
Stapleton had said after the Tour de France that he was “very optimistic” about penning a deal with a new sponsor and the former CEO of the telecom company VoiceStream Wireless revealed an agreement with a new headline sponsor broke down as late as Sunday.
“We had an agreement in place in principle with a new partner which would have given us a enough funds to operate the team at the same level of the last four years,” he added. “This deal abruptly collapsed on Sunday night, when I received an email and subsequent phone call from our intended partner.”
Cycling’s transfer window opened on August 1 and the team’s uncertain future had seen some riders move quickly to secure their futures elsewhere, with the Velits brothers, Peter and Martin, confirming their switch to Quick-Step.
Stapleton added: “What led to the team’s remarkable success was the team’s remarkable spirit that we had in the organisation. This year we’ll record our 500th win and we sit at 484 wins now, over 50 grand tour stages wins and a remarkable amount of success.
“Our goal was to bring forward athletes and management that could lead the sport forward and although this is a sad call in some respects, I do feel like we fundamentally changed the sport. Some of the most interesting athletes in the sport have Highroad DNA.”
Stapleton founded Highroad Sports in 2007 but T-Mobile withdrew its sponsorship at the end of the year after links to Jan Ullrich and Operacion Puerto were uncovered, while Patrik Sinkewitz tested positive for testosterone during Tour de France.
Columbia Sportswear signed on as sponsor ahead of the 2008 Tour before HTC took over, with Stapleton revitalising the team’s image as front runners in clean cycling.
But ironically it is the sport’s ever-present undercurrent of doping that has hindered the search for a new backer, with Stapleton pointing to Alberto Contador’s unresolved doping case and the federal investigation into Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service team.
“All I can tell you is that I don’t think there has been a single discussion with a potential sponsor where one or the other wasn’t talked about. It’s been a factor in everyone’s view of cycling in the last year.”