Sun, Aug 12, 2007 - Page 22 News List

Discovery Channel bike team to disband

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Spain's Alberto Contador of the Discovery Channel team celebrates his victory in the Tour de France on July 29. Tailwind Sports, the owner and operator of the team, announced on Friday that it will cease operations at the end of this season.

PHOTO: AFP

The cycling team that included Lance Armstrong as well as this year's Tour de France winner Alberto Contador said on Friday that it will disband after failing to replace the Discovery Channel as its sponsor.

The announcement came at roughly the same that that Contador held a news conference in Spain to deny the doping allegations plagued him even before his victory last month.

In normal circumstances, a Tour de France win should have assured the continuation of the Discovery Channel squad. The team is owned by Tailwind Sports, a company based in Austin, Texas, that is partly owned by Armstrong.

But this has been far from a normal year for cycling or the Tour, which had three riders test positive, a race leader ejected for lying to doping officials and an out of competition positive announced for another rider.

With Contador, Discovery had a winner clouded by suspicion. But he was not the only controversial rider on the team. Discovery hired Ivan Basso to be its leader last December, only to fire him in the spring after he became the target of an Italian investigation.

"This is arguably the most successful sports franchise in the history of sport," Bill Stapleton, Tailwind's general manager, said in a statement. "This was a difficult decision, not made any easier by our recent Tour de France success. We were in talks with a number of companies about the opportunity and were confident a new sponsor was imminent. We have chosen, however, to end those discussions."

Armstrong, who won the Tour seven times for the team, said in the statement that Tailwind will continue to operate, but shift its attention to other sports.

"Clearly things need to improve on many levels, with a more unified front, before you would see us venture back into cycling," he said.

Tailwind and its predecessor companies have been involved in cycling teams since 1989. In 1996, the team expanded after obtaining the US Postal Service as its sponsor. But it was Armstrong's comeback from cancer to win the 1999 Tour for the team that made its reputation as a major squad.

While the team's focus was on the Tour and Armstrong, its riders also scored victories in other major events including the national tours of Italy and Spain.

Discovery, which acquired the cable channel as its sponsor in 2004, is not the first major US cycling team to vanish. The team that first employed Armstrong and was the first US squad at the Tour, 7-Eleven, abandoned the sport in 1996.

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