Landis' former cycling team Phonak shuts down
ZURICH, Switzerland -- The owner of Floyd Landis' former cycling team will shut down operations at the end of the year, citing continuing doping issues within the sport and an inability to sell the team.
Swiss hearing aid firm Phonak decided to pull its sponsorship, but was unable to find a buyer. It was to be replaced at the end of the season by ishares, an American subsidiary of Barclays Bank, but the deal was called off, owner Andy Rihs said Tuesday.
"I've had to do something I've never done in my whole life: Give up," he said at a press conference.
The Phonak team has long suffered from bad publicity because of doping within the team, culminating in Tour de France champion Floyd Landis testing positive for unusually high levels of testosterone.
"I am deeply disappointed because what he did was what led to this decision," Rihs said. "On the other hand you know the guys and I would never say this is a bad person because he played bad. I regret what he has done for him, too.
"But for us, it's a tragedy that we had to stop the team now."
Landis tested positive for an unusually high ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone after staging a remarkable comeback on July 20 during the Tour's grueling Stage 17 Alpine leg. Landis regained nearly eight minutes against leader Oscar Pereiro and went on to win the three-week race. Both Landis' A and B samples were positive for high levels.
Phonak fired its captain a week after the Tour's conclusion for "violating the teams internal Code of Ethics."
The International Cycling Union, the sport's governing body, refused to issue Phonak a racing license for 2005 because of the team's doping record. Three Phonak riders -- 2004 Olympic time trial champion Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Camenzind and Santi Perez -- were all found guilty of violations in 2004 and fired.
The team filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport and was allowed to race with a two-year license.
Manager John Lelangue had no answer for the unusually high number of Phonak members caught doping over the years.
"It's all individual cases. There were old guys, young guys, experienced guys, with and without results," he said. "There was no one common profile. It's a very unfortunate coincidence."
Rihs said he had tried to sell the team for 80 cents, or one Swiss franc.
The riders were informed of his decision Tuesday morning by telephone.
The team's next task will be to look after its riders and staff, hopefully placing them with other teams within the next couple of months.
Rihs and Lelangue insisted they had never suspected Landis might be doping.
"I never doubted him. He never, never had anything [doping problems] in his whole life," Rihs said. "He was a good boy, you know?"
"If had seen something, if I'd had the slightest doubt, I would have done something about it," Lelangue said.
Rihs said his greatest regret was the team losing its Tour de France victory.
"We have been so good in the Tour de France, with or without winning it. It was all very perfect," he said. "Then we finally won it and had it snatched away from us. Not only the win but everything. The whole team is gone.
"I guess I will have a lot of time on my hands now to swallow this bitter pill."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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