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Rabobank’s decision to pull mountain bike sponsorship is first direct blow to the discipline after Armstrong Affair

Apples and oranges

Rabobank has said that it will respect riders’ 2013 contracts, but the company will remove all Rabobank branding as the pro road and mountain teams ride under white labels. Co-sponsor Giant will have one year to seek out additional sponsorship and will keep its own branding on the teams.

Rabobank-Giant Offroad Team rider Adam Craig isn’t personally impacted by the sponsorship change, as he has sought out personal sponsorship for his enduro racing as he steps away from World Cup events. The 2008 Olympian told VeloNews that he was not surprised that Rabobank pulled its sponsorship or that mountain biking was impacted by the decision.

“It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s even remotely unreasonable,” said Craig. “It’s a business entity and they have to manage the risk of its image.

“I wouldn’t fault anyone for being, like, ‘wow, the biggest fraud in the history of sport has been uncovered in a sport that we put tens of millions of dollars into. We don’t want to do that anymore.’ I’d do the same thing if I was the person making the call there.”

Doping controversy is nothing new to the Rabobank ProTeam. In 2007, the team fired overall leader Michael Rasmussen and pulled him from the Tour de France after learning that the Dane lied to drug testers about his whereabouts prior to that year’s Tour de France. Thomas Dekker fell afoul of the UCI’s biological passport in 2009 and later admitted to having used EPO. Most recently, Levi Leipheimer admitted to doping from 1999 to 2007, including the three years he spent with the Dutch team.

In May, Dutch newspaper Volkskrant published the results of its own investigation into the tolerance of doping on the Rabobank team between 1996 and 2007. The paper reported that the team knew about and tolerated doping, and left it up to riders and doctors to decide how far to go.

According to the report, Theo de Rooij, who served as the team director in 2007, didn’t deny that team members doped.

“When it comes to medical care, you must find the line between doping and medical aid,” de Rooij said in the report. “Riders’ health, either in the short-term or long-term, is paramount.”

The Armstrong scandal, however, was the straw that broke the sponsor’s back, as Rabobank decided to distance itself from the sport.

And although the scandal does not pertain to mountain biking, Morgenstein thinks it is unlikely that non-endemic sponsors scared off by cycling’s current woes will distinguish between the two disciplines.

“Road rash is road rash, but it’s just a different form,” Morgenstein told VeloNews. “Where mountain biking is considered more of an action form, road biking is considered more of a traditional form.”

Craig agreed, saying it’s “guilt by association for sure, but it’s all cycling when it comes down to it.”

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