Friday, October 19 11:21:12
Dutch lender Rabobank has ended its 17-year sponsorship of professional cycling, saying it had lost faith in the sport's leaders to clean up following the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.
Rabobank is the biggest backer of Dutch professional cycling, with total sponsorship worth 15 million euros ($20 million) a year in a nation with as many bikes as people.
Its decision shows the damage being done to cycling after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) said seven times Tour de France winner Armstrong took part in and organised a sophisticated doping scheme on his way to success.
"We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future," Bert Bruggink, Rabobank board member, said in a statement.
"The USADA report was the final straw," he added later in a press conference televised live in the Netherlands.
"The international sport of cycling is not only sick, the sickness goes up to the highest levels," he said.
Sportswear company Nike and brewer Anheuser-Busch dropped their sponsorship of Armstrong this week, and the sport must show it can tackle doping effectively to prevent more of its backers from quitting.
The International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport's governing body, has yet to rule on the USADA's report into Armstrong and has been criticised for dragging its feet.
"Despite inevitable and sometimes painful consequences, the UCI reaffirms its commitment to the fight against doping and full transparency about potential anti-doping rule violations," the Paris-based UCI said on Friday.
Armstrong, a 41-year-old cancer survivor, has always denied taking banned substances but has decided not to challenge the USADA charges.
American rider Levi Leipheimer, who rode for Rabobank between 2002 and 2004, was sacked this week by the Quick-Step Cycling Team after admitting to the USADA investigation that he took banned substances.
Leipheimer, 38, was one of 11 former team mates to testify against Armstrong. (C ) Reuters