New US cycling sponsor vows 'zero tolerance'
PARIS -- Cycling got a pre-Tour de France boost with a new American team sponsor that vowed "zero tolerance" for doping.
Los Angeles-based consumer technology firm Belkin stepped into the void left by Rabobank, the Dutch lender that ended 17 years of cycling sponsorship last October, saying it was no longer convinced the doping-tainted sport can become "clean and honest."
This year, while it looked for a new title sponsor, the Netherlands-based team competed as Blanco, the Spanish word for "white" -- a name chosen to demonstrate that the team was making a fresh start.
The newly renamed Belkin Pro Cycling Team will make its racing debut at the Tour that starts Saturday on the French island of Corsica.
Belkin signed as title sponsor through 2015. The firm's founder and CEO, Chet Pipkin, wouldn't give a dollar figure but said the firm's sponsorship is "a huge investment for us, the biggest one we have ever made in the marketing arena."
Rabobank's withdrawal of $20 million per year of sponsorship for the team was one of the repercussions of cycling's ongoing effort against doping and the fall of Lance Armstrong. After the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency unmasked Armstrong as a serial doper, the bank said "the trust in the cycling world has gone."
Speaking in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Pipkin addressed how he would respond if told doping is necessary for success in cycling.
"The only way that we would do anything in business or sport or anything else is in an open, honest, visible and transparent way," Pipkin said. `So we will not have anything to do with that whatsoever.
"We have zero tolerance for anything outside the honest boundaries."
Auto manufacturer Nissan also disassociated its name from another team that used to employ Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong's mentor identified by USADA and his ex-teammates as one of the organizers of systematic doping on their U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel squads.
The HTC-Highroad team folded at the end of 2011. Owner Bob Stapleton told cycling reporters that the investigations into Armstrong and into Alberto Contador, the Spanish rider stripped of his victory at the 2010 Tour for failing doping controls, featured in all his discussions with potential sponsors.
Pipkin said he wouldn't comment on how clean or dirty the sport is now.
"I'm not close enough to it to know myself," he said. "But it is very critical to the Belkin brand that things be honest and transparent and open and we certainly see that in this team."
He said he did not watch when Armstrong confessed to talk-show host Oprah Winfrey this January that he doped for all seven of his Tour wins from 1999-2005. Those titles have been stripped from Armstrong and not redistributed.
"We wouldn't get too focused on things that have happened in the past, the past is the past," Pipkin said.
As Belkin, the team will remain part of the Movement for Credible Cycling or MPCC, a grouping of teams whose members hold to even stricter anti-doping measures than otherwise required by the World Anti-Doping Agency code.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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