Postal Service to end sponsorship after '04
WASHINGTON -- The Postal Service is ending its sponsorship of celebrated cyclist Lance Armstrong, winner of five consecutive Tour de France races.
The agency has sponsored Armstrong's pro cycling team for eight years and will to do so through the end of 2004.
Spokesman Gerry McKiernan said the agency has decided to go "in another direction" with its advertising. Asked if that meant some other sport relationship, he said "it's possible."
Armstrong, who will go for a record sixth Tour de France win later this year, was disappointed to hear the news, but not surprised.
"I have mixed emotions, but predominantly I have great memories and great feelings towards them," Armstrong said after the fifth stage of the Tour de Georgia Friday. "In 1998 they were the company and the sponsor that stepped up and gave me a chance to race again."
Cycling is popular in Europe and postal officials sponsored Armstrong's team in an effort to increase their international business. Though Armstrong declined to elaborate about potential sponsors, he welcomes interest from European companies.
"It's not really that important, but certainly somebody with a European focus and increasing their exposure in Europe," Armstrong said. "That makes more sense. There's plenty of technology companies and other logical companies that aren't based in America, but I think the team will still be based in America. We'll still be registered as an American team. That's what counts."
Anita Bizzotto, chief marketing officer for the post office, said the excitement generated by five consecutive Tour de France victories "has been inspiring and exhilarating to the Postal Service, its employees, and the entire country."
With another Tour de France looming in July, Armstrong found the timing of the Postal Service's announcement curious.
"Now, it is an interesting time to stop," the 32-year-old Texan said. "I think the team is better than ever. I think that we continue to compete at a top level and win tours and win big races."
The team is owned and managed by Tailwind Sports.
Bill Stapleton, chief executive of Tailwind, said the team has enjoyed its relationship with the post office.
"Further, we appreciate their continued support as we seek a new title sponsor for the best cycling team in the world. We are committed to keeping our riders and staff in place for years to come and furthering our goals of winning important events like the Tour de France," he said.
The cyclist drew widespread attention for returning to dominate his sport after overcoming testicular cancer.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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