By VeloNews Interactive wire services , Copyright AFP2002
The Italian building materials company Mapei has announced plans to end its sponsorship of cycling at the end of the current season, bringing to a close nearly a decade of successful involvement with the professional peloton.
“The Mapei group have decided to end their sponsorship of (the) sports team at the end of the current season,” a statement released from the team said Wednesday three weeks after the drug-tainted Giro d’Italia.
Mapei chief Girogio Squinzi said the sport was finally beginning to get its house in order but not enough was being done to convince him that Mapei’s continued links with the sport was a viable operation.
“We are starting to see signs of changes, which are indispensable to give cycling back the credibility that it’s popularity and history deserve,” said Squinzi. “But there’s not enough being done, progress against the serious issues in cycling is slow and basically it doesn’t justify our continued commitment.”
Although measures to stamp out doping have been taken by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and big race organizers, such as the Tour de France, cycling has taken a knock, mainly at the past two editions of the Giro d’Italia where a number of riders tested positive, including the Mapei squad’s team leader Stefano Garzelli.
Last year’s winner Gilberto Simoni, who rides for Saeco, tested positive for cocaine this year and was also thrown out. Days earlier, Garzelli was also ejected from the race after he tested positive for a banned diuretic.
Mapei, which fabricates building materials, has been involved in sponsorship of cycling since 1993 and, through a team of widely respected riders, racked up more than 600 victories in virtually every major race on the calendar, save its two most elusive prizes, the Tour de France and the classic Milan-San Remo.
Spanish rider Oscar Freire is the current world road race champion while Italians Andrea Tafi and Paolo Bettini won major World Cup races in the spring.
The 27-man team also has a number of promising younger riders such as Australian Cadel Evans, who lit up the Giro in his debut, Hungary’s Laszlo Bodrogi and talented South African Robert Hunter.
Mapei chief Squinzi said the company has fond memories, but was also pulling out with some regrets.
“We’ve given so much to cycling over the past 10 years and, as far as satisfaction goes, we’ve received just as much,” he said. “We’re leaving the sport with a lot of satisfaction but also with bitterness for being too often misunderstood. We’ve been prevented from carrying out our own plans and introducing new ideas, whether it’s been on the organization and management of teams or the fight against doping.”
Italian cycling took another knock Tuesday when RCS Sport, which organizes the major cycling races in Italy (Giro, Milan-San Remo, Tour of Lombardy) announced the suspension of the next edition of the Trophy of Escaladeurs, from August 27-29.
RCS Sport said it wants to take a break to reflect before resuming its organization of major cycling events.