Craig Lewis was in disbelief when he learned that his HTC-Highroad squad was disbanding at the end of this season. His reaction was on par with many who were shocked that the long-standing number one-ranked team in the world was unable to secure a financial backer or a future in professional cycling.
"How can a team with so many victories from so many different riders over the last four years not find a backer?" Lewis told Cyclingnews. "The sport is obviously poorly viewed among almost every major company in the world. I just don't understand why."
HTC-Highroad, run by Bob Stapleton, won close to 500 races in its four-year existence. However, despite there being some very dedicated sponsors within the cycling industry, dollars are spread thin and the battle continues for teams to find funding each year.
"One would think that when the number one team, as far as victories, goes onto the open market that each and every one of them would be at the top of the list of every director," Lewis said. "I hope this is the case."
Lewis alluded to part of the problem being the sport's more recent doping scandal with widely publicized investigations such as the Telekom and Festina affairs, Oil for Drugs, Operacion Puerto along with Food and Drug Administration's Jeff Novitzky's current investigation into the former US Postal team, among others. However, he noted that cycling is one of the only sports that is trying to clean itself up.
"Sure there are the doping stories, but at least this sport is doing something about it," Lewis said. "I still feel the return on investment is massive in cycling, and I wish corporations would start to see that again. A lot can be done, and with the sport in the position it is in currently, now is the time to build back up."
HTC-Highroad ended its final Tour de France with Mark Cavendish dominating the sprint stages and winning the green jersey. Lewis believes that the disbanding of HTC-Highroad will provide for a more balanced racing and tactics amongst the peloton.
"I think there will be a bit of a shift in the racing next year," Lewis said. "Maybe more balanced out. Mark Cavendish and HTC were always forced to do all of the work on sprint days. With HTC gone, a lot of teams will be even as far as putting in the necessary work to win races now. Cav's team will still be looked to, but will it be as strong and as successful as HTC was? Only time will tell."
As for Lewis, he is current recovering from a broken left leg and will not be able to compete in the upcoming Tour of Utah with his HTC-Highroad teammates. News of the team folding came as another blow to the rider, who is unsure if he will find a contract elsewhere next season. He will next compete at the two WorldTour events Grand Prix Cycliste Quebec and Montreal in September.
"I am personally in a tough position as I am not currently racing," Lewis said. "I need the directors to see how well I race during the Giro d'Italia, and the events before that, to know that I will be a huge contribution to their team in 2012 and beyond. Not an easy task in the ‘what have you done lately' world."