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  • Mon August 13 2007
  • Posted Aug 13, 2007
Lance Armstrong and other co-owners decide to withdraw from the sport rather than seek a new sponsor. By Suzanne Halliburton AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF Saturday, August 11, 2007 Cycling's infighting and constant doping allegations claimed several significant victims Friday. Austin-based Team Discovery, co-owned by Lance Armstrong, announced plans to disband at the end of the cycling season. Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong's 43-year-old mentor, announced his retirement. And reigning Tour champion Alberto Contador, Armstrong's protege, is looking for new employment. "It's a sad day for cycling," Armstrong said during a teleconference Friday. "Certainly a sad day for American cycling. We're proud of our record." "It's the end of an era," said Bill Stapleton, general manager of Team Discovery. "We leave with our heads held high." Team Discovery had the unenviable task of securing a title sponsor this year, one of the worst ever, publicity-wise, for the mostly European sport. The Tour concluded July 29, but not before race leader Michael Rasmussen was fired from his team for reportedly lying about his whereabouts when he missed out-of-competition drug tests and pre-race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov was busted for blood doping. Even Contador, the Tour winner, has been plagued by drug allegations. Hours before word leaked out about Discovery's decision to disband, Contador and Bruyneel conducted a news conference in Madrid to address allegations that the rider was treated at a blood-doping clinic a year ago. Meanwhile, ASO, the Parisian company that runs the Tour, continued to bicker with the International Cycling Union. Last month, the Tour informed the cycling union president that he was unwelcome at the race. As cycling generated negative headlines, Austin's Capital Sports & Entertainment, the group that owns the Discovery cycling team, continued its quest for a corporation that would pay $15 million to be the title sponsor for the squad. It appeared the team had secured a sponsor in March, but the deal fell through. Though the group had until late September to find financing for next year, it chose to end the search. The Discovery television network had been the team's title sponsor since 2005, Armstrong's last year of riding. But in February, the network underwent a management change and ended its sponsorship. Armstrong and Stapleton said Friday that they were about "90 percent" sure of signing with a sponsor they didn't identify, but rather than risking so much money on a sport that has a credibility crisis, they decided to end the negotiations. "We couldn't in good conscience ask a company to spend that much money in the current (cycling) environment," Stapleton said. Bruyneel, who also is a co-owner of the team, said a decision to disband came last week. An announcement was planned for Monday, but as the team's 27 riders were told of the decision, word leaked out of Discovery's plans. "They leave with the Discovery stamp," Bruyneel said of the team's riders. "I'm sure they will be very wanted." The Discovery team — and its predecessor, the U.S. Postal Service squad — had been one of the most formidable teams in cycling since Armstrong began winning successive Tours in 1999. They enjoyed their best Tour ever last month, with Contador winning the race and Levi Leipheimer, the team's top American, finishing third. Discovery also won the award for best team, a feat the riders never accomplished during Armstrong's seven-year reign. Armstrong, since retiring, has focused most of his attention on his foundation, which funds and promotes cancer research and awareness. This month, most of the top presidential candidates will participate in an Armstrong-sponsored cancer forum in Iowa. After he quit cycling, Armstrong didn't play a significant role with the team. He received regular updates from Bruyneel, and he made two brief appearances at the Tour last month, including an impromptu visit to Paris for the final weekend. "For me, this decision really simplified my schedule," said Armstrong, who spends about half his time away from Austin on foundation business. "This is not about the lack of a sponsor," he said. "Right now is a good time to step aside." shalliburton@statesman.com; 445-3954

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