By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The longest running professional team sponsorship in American cycling will come to an end this season as Navigators Insurance will not renew for 2008, a team release said Friday. The global insurance company has sponsored the New Jersey-based professional team bearing its name for 14 years, making it the longest continuous team sponsorship in American cycling history and one of the longest running in the world.
Director sportif Ed Beamon told Cyclingnews that the search for a replacement sponsor has been unsuccessful, but that it is not over. "I'm still trying to put something together," said Beamon. "I'm going to go down with the sinking ship if I have to!" he said jokingly as a metaphor.
Numerous current riders have been announcing their departure for other teams next season over the past month, signaling that management informed riders well in advance of the likelihood of the end. "We have been trying to keep the program intact as much as possible, but it's beyond that," said Beamon. "We've been trying to help guys get contracts who don't have one yet too.
Beamon said he is being realistic about the chances for resurrecting the team for next season and is starting to look beyond. "If things go well we will have perhaps a smaller program and keep guys on the team. If it doesn't come together I'll just keep working towards 2009."
The current climate of teams and sponsors parting ways could be a symptom of the negative publicity, something that affected Navigators. "We had some really good opportunities in the last couple of years but it's been hard this year with all the negative publicity," he admitted. "It's a tough time to go out shopping right now."
The team is currently racing at both the Tour of Missouri and Tour of Britain this week - with both races serving as the final curtain call for the team.