By Brecht Decaluwé in Digne-les-Bains, France
One of the four remaining Barloworld riders at the Tour de France has said he is confident the team will continue in cycling until at least 2009, following the news that title sponsor Barloworld, a multi-national brand management company headquartered in South Africa, will withdraw its sponsorship after the race. The company's decision follows Spaniard Moisés Dueñas' failed doping test for EPO, and subsequent revelations that the rider had banned substances in his hotel room.
"I'm convinced the team will find the best solution for us. It's not going to be a problem. They will find a win-win solution for everybody," said Christopher Froome, a Kenyan-born rider who now races under British nationality. "We're all just waiting to find out more. I think it's going to end up being a team that continues in the same way as it did before, but maybe under a different name. I'm not too sure, but I think the sponsorship until 2009 is still confirmed.
"It's not a good way to end things, but I can understand the sponsor's point of view, that they don't want to link themselves to doping in any way."
Team-mate Gianpaolo Cheula said that he too understood the decision of sponsor Barloworld, and expressed disappointment in Dueñas. "Only Dueñas knows the details, but the team is certainly clean; there is no doping organized by Barloworld," Cheula said. "I'm angry at Dueñas, because it's his fault the sponsor pulled out. I hope that in the coming years the riders understand that doping in cycling is no longer possible."
Froome was also angry with Dueñas for risking so much for personal success. "It all actually goes back to one person in one event, who was selfish enough to take away almost 45 people's jobs. It's a huge shame. I don't know if he understood the consequences fully when he did it, but it was a very selfish act on his part," Froome said.
Froome said he still couldn't understand how nobody in the team knew about Dueñas' EPO use. "We've spoken to [Felix] Cardenas and [Paolo Longo] Borghini who both shared a room with him. They swore that they didn't see anything. I find it incredible that he has been hiding it from everyone like that. What I find even more amazing is that he thought that he could come to the Tour de France and get away with it. You know that you're going to be tested in the Tour, so what's the deal."
Froome added that Dueñas was well-liked within the team, making the news of his failed test even harder to swallow. "Moisés got along with everybody in the team and I actually really liked him," said Froome. "I thought he was a really decent guy, so it was a real shock. People put us all in the same boat now. They see someone in the Barloworld kit and think that he might be doping. It's terrible that people put you in the same boat. It makes me very angry, but what can you do about it?
"The best thing for me to do is not to see [Dueñas] or I may get assault charges against me," Froome said.
The team is still hoping for a stage win at the Tour, and puts its trust in South African sprinter Robbie Hunter. "I try what I can to get Robbie first over the line one day, but it's not easy in the race. It feels like you're picking up bottles every 20 minutes when you're only with four riders."
And despite the team's low morale, Froome said there were a few perks to having just four riders left. "It's a small compact unit," he said. "There's a lot of space in the bus and you don't need to wait in order to take a shower."