Lance Armstrong?s agent and business manager, Bill Stapleton, has told the American media that Discovery Channel will no longer be sponsoring the squad after this season.

The United States only ProTour team won the Tour de France seven times with Lance Armstrong. Formerly known as the US Postal team, Discovery was a secondary sponsor in 2004 and then became the squad?s main backer in 2005, when Armstrong took cycling?s blue riband event for the last time.

Following the American?s retirement, Discovery had an uneven year in 2006, holding the lead in all three major stage races but failing to make much impact on the Tour de France.

The surprising news that Discovery will now pull out follows their attempts to bolster up the team for 2007 with new signings such as Ivan Basso and Levi Leipheimer. Nor is the team lacking in British connections: Sean Yates is a directeur sportif with the squad and Steve Cummings recently joined the American team.

According to American newspaper USA Today, Discovery?s decision to pull out is linked to the sacking of Discovery Network president by Billy Campbell by new Discovery Communications president David Zaslav. Campbell brought the team into cycling in 2004 and agreed to the signing of Basso despite the lack of complete clarity over his possible links with Operacion Puerto.

Contacted by CW, Discovery directeur sportif Viatcheslav Ekimov confirmed the news, saying the management had been informed last week. ?We expected this, we could see it coming.? Ekimov said. ?Obviously it?s bad news, but it was no big surprise.? He would not comment on USA Today?s assertion that Campbell?s exit from Discovery was linked to the pull-out.

?What we?ve got to do now is prove to the new sponsors that we are sure will come on board that we?re a team worth backing by getting good results. This isn?t a good moment to go looking for sponsors with all the problems cycling has had recently, but this sport has been around for 100 years. We?ll get through.?