The Lance Armstrong affair on Friday prompted a major sponsor to cut ties with cycling, in a warning shot to its embattled governing body, raising questions about whether the sport can ever restore its tainted image.
Rabobank, which has sponsored a professional cycling team for the last 17 years, claimed the sport had been irrevocably damaged by a succession of doping cases, not just the high-profile sc-andal involving seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong. Know Rabobank
The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) last week placed the Texan at the heart of what it said was the biggest doping programme in sports history, which has heaped pressure on cycling's governing body and seen Armstrong lose a string of high-profile backers.
Not a clean sport
"We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport,” Rabobank board member Bert Bruggink said in a statement.
“We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future," he said, later telling a news conference that the damning USADA report into Armstrong was "the straw that broke the camel's back".
“What the USADA showed us is that international cycle racing is not only sick but also at the highest level within cycling, including a number of the relevant authorities, including checks on the use of doping,: he added.
Rabobank has been the standard-bearer for Dutch cycling but it has also been mired in doping scandals, including one involving Danish rider Michael Rasmussen when he was wearing the leader's yellow jersey on the 2007 Tour de France.
On Thursday, the team said it had suspended Spanish cyclist Carlos Barredo after it was announced that he was facing disciplinary action from the International Cycling Union (UCI) for allegedly breaking blood-doping rules.
A number of top-level riders are affected by the sponsorship withdrawal, including Dutch star Robert Gesink, who told cyclingnews.com: "It feels like a smack in the face at the moment.
“I don't have any words for it but it's one of the worst things that could happen,” he added, suggesting that the current crop of riders, who will compete next season without a sponsor, were being made to pay for the sins of their predecessors.
The UCI for its part said it "understood the context" of Rabobank's decision but the withdrawal is a clear warning that the sport could see further financial backing fall away unless it takes strong action to stamp out the scourge of doping.
Amnesty on cards
The chief of the World Anti-Doping Agency on Friday said he is considering an across-the-board amnesty for drug cheating athletes. There has been a debate within the cycling world about whether an amnesty is nee-ded to encourage others to come forward to give further evidence.
World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president John Fahey said the idea has merit and it was likely to be considered once the Armstrong appeals process had run its course.
UCI response on Monday
World cycling’s governing body said on Friday that it will give its response to the USADA dossier on Lance Armstrong on Monday.
UCI said in an emailed statement that its president, Pat McQuaid, would give its position on the report at a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland.