Is T-Mobile?s exit the beginning of the end?
If there was anyone left in any doubt that professional cycling was on its last legs, yesterday?s announcement from T-Mobile should have acted as a slap in the face.
Sponsorship turnover is no bad thing; it brings fresh ideas and helps change tired, ingrained practices. But T-Mobile?s exit isn?t a dignified end to their contract, it?s an immediate retreat from the sport, leaving upwards of 50 staff uncertain over their future.
And it?s not just those on the payroll that need worry about their future. T-Mobile was one of the most influential sponsors in the sport. After last year?s revelations they stuck their neck out and enforced massive change in the sport: one of few that did.
Their clean ethos was a breath of fresh air, and gave not only their riders, but others in the sport the courage to speak out against doping – a practice that for years has been frowned upon in the sport where the cheats and dopers held the majority.
T-Mobile is the third sponsor to leave the crippled ProTour this year after Unibet and Discovery Channel. Gerolsteiner will not renew at the end of 2008, and neither will Credit Agricole. Quick Step are expected not to renew their deal at the end of 2008.
All this leaves the UCI?s ProTour looking pathetically weak. It?s already lost half the races, now the teams are looking shaky.
But if the ProTour takes the hit for the current crisis then it is nothing more than poetic justice, seeing as we are now suffering for Hein Verbruggen?s incompetence. Verbruggen is the man behind the ProTour, he?s also the man who ignored repeated warnings about the widespread use of EPO in the pro peloton when he was president of the UCI in the 90’s.
That was the period when doping was rife in the pro peloton. The period when doping was rife at Team Telekom. And, thanks to that now being widely known, that is why the German company has pulled the plug.
Worryingly, Verbruggen now holds a high ranking position at the IOC, I wouldn?t let him take the minutes of my club committee meetings.