It was announced yesterday that Deutsche Telekom, the German telecommunications giant and parent company of T-Mobile, will end its sponsorship following a year of doping scandals, ending its 16-year involvement in the sport.
The team has been in the headlines this year with the doping revelations of several of its personnel, most recently with the sacking of Patrik Sinkewitz. The German rider is now serving a one-year ban after tests revealed high levels of testosterone.
“We arrived at this decision to separate our brand from further exposure from doping in sport and cycling specifically,” said T-Mobile CEO Hamid Akhavan.“This was a difficult decision given our long history of support for professional cycling and the efforts of Bob Stapleton in managing the team in 2007.”
What happens now then? The team will continue as Team High Road, according to its management company, High Road Sports. Team manager Bob Staptelon, who joined the team earlier this year and has been setting out strong new anti-doping practices and policies, is keen that the team can retain its place in the sport.
“T-Mobile’s decision to end its involvement in professional cycling is a challenge for the sport and our team,” says Stapleton. “We will review and adapt our operations, and continue to advance our leadership position in athletic success and commitment to clean and fair sport that began during our work with T-Mobile.”
“We hope to go forward independently with the team to achieve our goals of continued competitive success and being a leader in anti-doping efforts in professional cycling.”
The team has been at the centre of several doping affairs in the past 18-months, most notably with Jan Ullrich, Bjarne Riis, Eric Zabel and most recently Patrik Sinkewitz being under the spotlight, putting T-Mobile into the headlines for all the wrong reasons. There’s been success too, with a yellow jersey and stage win in the 2007 Tour de France courtesy of Linus Gerdemann, and a string of victories form Mark Cavendish, despite still being in his first year as a pro.
Nevertheless, until a new sponsor is found to replace T-Mobile, the team will likely be looking to monitor its budget extremely closely, and ensure that all the riders get the support they need. The team made several big signings recently, with George Hincapie, Erik Zabel and Bradley Wiggins joining the squad. But, can the sport hope to attract sponsors with the profile and deep pockets as T-Mobile, until the sport cleans itself up? We’ll have to wait and see.