Neotel has withdrawn from sponsorship of its eponymous Continental squad after one of its riders, Nolan Hoffman, returned a positive doping control last year. It brings to an end three years of involvement by the internet service company in South African professional cycling and has cast a shadow over the future of the team's other eight riders.
Hoffman has been provisionally suspended by Cycling South Africa (CSA) after he returned a positive result for an as-yet-unnamed substance in a doping control carried out on October 18, 2009. The 24-year-old sprinter is expected to face a CSA hearing in the next fortnight.
"Because we have extremely high ethical standards as an organisation, which is evident in the way in which we deal with both internal and external stakeholders, we do not condone doping whatsoever," said Ajay Pandey, CEO and MD of Neotel in a statement. "We have therefore assessed the risk and taken the decision to withdraw from the sport."
Regarded as one of the best talents to emerge since joining a South African development programme in 2004, Hoffman had gathered a widespread following in his local community. A winner of the opening stage at the 2009 Tour of Korea, he said pressure to return from a knee injury had resulted in him turning to drugs.
"I have disgraced the people and sponsors that supported me my whole career. I really hope this doesn’t cause any damage to them and the sport. I have disappointed everyone and I will face everything that is coming to me, I am truly sorry," Hoffman wrote in a letter to the CSA.
Eugene Ruiters, founder of Team Neotel expressed his disappointment with his rider's decision. "Although we empathise with his motivation, it is disappointing to have a role model such as himself resort to such action. Nolan has been the biggest success of our development plan. He has been in our system since 2004 and has developed into one of South Africa's top cyclists. There are no excuses."
While Neotel has confirmed their withdrawal of support for the professional team, the company is expected to continue its support for a development programme it first became involved in three years ago.
"We have always competed to win without losing sight of the need for transformation," said Pandey. "We are proud of the results that have been achieved. We have over 40 young people in the academy, ranging from under 10 to under 18, all from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. Not only are the young people taught the skills they require to participate in cycling, but life-skills as well."