Phonak disbands after Landis doping scandal

16th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

ZURICH, Aug 15, 2006 (AFP) - The Phonak cycling team announced Tuesday that it was disbanding in the wake of the Tour de France doping scandal surrounding team leader Floyd Landis.

ZURICH, Aug 15, 2006 (AFP) - The Phonak cycling team announced Tuesday that it was disbanding in the wake of the Tour de France doping scandal surrounding team leader Floyd Landis.

Team Andy owner Andy Rihs said the Landis affair had been the deciding factor, in the wake of other doping scandals that affected Phonak riders over the past two years.

"As a passionate cyclist, I am bitterly disappointed that the sport of cycling apparently has become a synonym for doping," he said.

"I truly regret this development and it has brought me to the decision of disbanding the Phonak Cycling Team per the end of 2006," Rihs said in a statement distributed at a press conference in Zurich.

Rihs said he had found few alternatives to closure, in particular due to uncertainty surrounding the renewal of Phonak's ProTour licence for next season.

"We looked for solutions, talked day and night... and now I've made my decision, I'm pulling out," he explained, underlining that replacement sponsors were hard to find.

The UCI originally excluded the Swiss team from the Pro Tour early in 2005 after three cyclists failed doping tests in swift succession the previous season and were subsequently banned.

But the team won back its place later that season after a legal appeal.

Rihs, a successful businessman and a cycling fan, ordered a major shake-up last season, sacking most of the managers and drafting in current sporting director John Lelangue.

Despite an additional code of conduct that has led to several riders being sacked or suspended, Phonak seems to have had trouble shrugging off the specter of doping.

The team's troubles started in 2004.

First 1998 world champion Oscar Camezind was banned for taking the prohibited endurance drug EPO (erythropoietin).

Then team leader and Olympic time trial gold medallist Tyler Hamilton and 2004 Tour of Spain runner-up Santiago Perez were both found to have taken illicit blood transfusions.

More recently, Swiss hope Sascha Urweider was sacked and banned by the Swiss Olympic federation for two years after he also tested positive for excess testosterone during training in February.

Other Phonak riders -- Giro runner-up Jose Enrique Gutierrez and Colombian Santiago Botero -- were provisionally dropped on June 2 when they were named in media reports on the massive "Operation Puerto" doping probe in Spain.

Finally, Landis tested positive for testosterone after the 17th stage of the Tour de France at Morzine on July 20, where he staged a stunning comeback on the final mountain stage to effectively clinch the race.

"Three weeks ago, we were the winners of the Tour de France, we were overjoyed, the sponsors were queuing up to join us... And then suddenly this blow," Rihs commented.

Rihs pledged to help the team's employees, especially its young Swiss riders, to find new jobs.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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