The Phonak cycling team will be disbanded at the end of the year, the team confirmed in a press conference today. Team owner Andy Rihs, who was looking to hand over the sponsorship to iShares, a division of Barclays Bank, which will now not happen, said that the deciding factor in the decision was the doping case involving Floyd Landis, as well as the uncertainty with regard to the renewal of the ProTour licence that expires at the end of this year.
"As a passionate cyclist, I am bitterly disappointed that the sport of cycling apparently has become a synonym for doping," said Rihs. "I truly regret this development and it has brought me to the decision of disbanding the Phonak Cycling Team per the end of 2006."
After experiencing 11 doping cases in the last five years, Phonak tried to clean house at the end of 2004, bringing in a new team manager John Lelangue, firing several staff and doctors, and introducing its own very stringent internal controls. The team looked to be on a roll this year, with Floyd Landis winning Paris-Nice, the Tours of California and Georgia, and then the Tour de France. But that turned into a disaster when Landis tested positive for abnormal testosterone levels after stage 17, and was subsequently fired by Phonak.
"For this reason, today I see myself forced to do something I have never done in my whole life as a businessman: I have given up!" Rihs said, adding that the decision was a difficult one. "I am particularly sorry for our young promising Swiss riders who share no guilt in this development, as well as for the competent staff members. I deeply regret that I can no longer do this in the future."
"We will never enter a team in the Tour de France again," team manager John Lelangue was quoted by Reuters as saying. Lelangue also did not know what Floyd Landis would do in future. "What he does is up to him," Lelangue said.
Dutch rider Koos Moerenhout was not happy with the news. "I had just signed for two years," he was quoted by ANP as saying. "I rode a good season until now and got a nice new contract as a result. It's bitter that it ends like this...I felt good in this team, in all respects. I'm not scared that there's no interest in me, but I should stay positive."
The team will continue to race until the end of the year, and riders are now free to look for other teams.
Cyclingnews' coverage of the Floyd Landis case
September 28, 2008 - Landis takes case to US federal court
September 10, 2008 - Landis signing with current Health Net-Maxxis team for 2009
July 1, 2008 - CAS delivers final blow to Landis legal challenge
June 30, 2008 - Landis loses final appeal
June 28, 2008 - Landis decision due Monday
March 12, 2008 - Landis' judgment day nears
October 21, 2007 - Landis files appeal with CAS
October 18, 2007 - AFLD takes another look at Landis case
Thursday, October 11 - Landis continues fight, appeals to CAS
Saturday, September 22 - UCI officially names Pereiro 2006 Tour champion, Landis case raises issues
Friday, September 21 - Landis' appeal denied, two year suspension levied