Dutch bank pulls out as pro cycling sponsor

Netherlands' Rabobank cycling team rides during the UCI Road World Championships on September 16, 2012 in Valkenburg.

Story highlights

  • Rabobank will end its sponsorship of professional men's and women's cycling teams this year
  • A report alleging doping by cyclist Lance Armstrong and others "speaks volumes," it says
  • The Dutch bank doubts the world of professional cycling "can make this a clean and fair sport"
  • Armstrong denies the allegations against him; he has lost important backers this week

The world of professional cycling suffered another blow Friday, as Dutch bank Rabobank announced it is to end its sponsorship of pro cycling teams in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

Rabobank will pull its backing for both men's and women's professional cycling teams on December 31, it said in a statement.

The company will continue to sponsor amateur cycling, including the youth training and the cyclocross team, it said. The activity is hugely popular in the Netherlands, where millions of people cycle routinely.

The bank made clear its decision was a direct response to the controversy that has engulfed Armstrong since the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency last week detailed what it called "overwhelming" evidence of his involvement as a professional cyclist in "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program."

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"Rabobank has come to this decision following publication of the report from the American doping authority USADA last week," its statement said. "This report speaks volumes."

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Rabobank -- a century-old business which began its involvement in professional cycling 17 years ago "full of conviction and with a clear mission" -- had previously seen cycling as a good fit with the company, its clients and its employees, it said.

    But all that has changed since the USADA report alleging doping by Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service team.

    "It is with pain in our heart, but for the bank this is an inevitable decision," Bert Bruggink, of Rabobank's managing board, is quoted as saying.

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    "We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future."

    In its report, the anti-doping agency made public testimony from Armstrong's teammates and others who said Armstrong was among team members who used banned performance-enhancing substances and tried to hide it from testing officials.

    The seven-time Tour de France winner has consistently denied the allegations against him.

    But a long chain of accusations trailing Armstrong has begun to erode support even among those who have steadfastly backed him in the past.

    On Wednesday, Armstrong walked away from the chairmanship of the cancer charity he founded 15 years ago, Livestrong, saying he wanted to spare it any negative effects from the controversy surrounding him. He will remain on the charity's board of directors.

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    On the same day Nike, which initially stood by Armstrong, dropped him with a terse statement citing what it called "seemingly insurmountable evidence" that he participated in doping.

    Hours later, brewery giant Anheuser-Busch followed suit, saying it would let Armstrong's contract expire at the end of the year. Nike and Anheuser-Busch said they still planned to support Livestrong and its initiatives.

    The USADA report is part of its request to international cycling officials to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. The International Olympic Committee is also reviewing the evidence and could consider revoking Armstrong's bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney games. Armstrong is already banned from competing in events sanctioned by U.S. Olympic governing bodies.

    Armstrong has said he never has failed a drug test and has consistently denied participating in any banned practices.

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