Nissan pulls plug on cycling sponsorship

Financial commitments to be paid through 2013, but name will not appear on jerseys or bikes

LEON, Spain (VN) — Nissan is pulling the plug on its high-profile sponsorship effective immediately and its name will not appear on RadioShack jerseys next season.

Officials from the North American division of the carmaker confirmed the news to VeloNews on Thursday. The news first broke earlier today in a report in the Luxembourg newspaper Le Quotidien.

Nissan officials would not elaborate on why it decided to abruptly end its deal with the Luxembourg-registered team owned by construction tycoon Flavio Becca, but confirmed to VeloNews it would no longer be associated with the team.

“Nissan and the management team of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek cycling have reached an agreement that provides for Nissan’s immediate withdrawal as a sponsor of the team, while enabling the team to continue competing in the upcoming 2013 season,” said David P. Reuter, vice president of corporate communications. “Nissan wishes the riders, team management, and professional cycling well in future endeavors.”

It is believed the car manufacturer will honor its financial agreement through the term of its contract, set to conclude at the end of 2013.

That means that the squad that is home to Andy Schleck, Chris Horner and Fabian Cancellara will still have the money to pay salaries going into next season.

Nissan’s name, however, will not appear on jerseys or bikes and the cars will not be used as official vehicles for the team.

The news is a blow for the team and comes on the heels of troublesome year for the squad after the merger of RadioShack and Leopard-Trek that former team rider Jakob Fulgsang called “a disaster.”

Former team manager Johan Bruyneel left the team in October under growing pressure for his involvement in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation into doping practices on teams he managed from the late 1990s to 2010.

Bruyneel is challenging a lifetime ban, all but assuring a string of negative headlines if the case hits arbitration next year.

Star rider Fränk Schleck is also facing a possible racing ban after testing positive for a banned diuretic at this year’s Tour de France. Luxembourg officials heard more evidence in the case yesterday and sources say a decision could come in January.

Whether those issues helped nudge Nissan out of the sport remains unknown. Company officials refused to expand on reasons behind its hasty exit.

Nissan’s arrival as a full co-sponsor in 2012 was seen as a boon not only for the team, but a larger confirmation for cycling. The team gradually increased its involvement in cycling over the last handful of years, also backing the Amgen Tour of California and USA Pro Challenge.

As one of the world’s largest car manufacturers, Nissan brought high-profile exposure and corporate credibility to the table.

In a press release on Nissan’s website dated February 2012, company officials were enthusiastic about growing the brand’s presence in cycling.

The company cited the two million fans watching the Tour of California and stated that cycling is a “good fit for a corporation that has consistently demonstrated its interest in environmental issues, along with health and fitness.”

That enthusiasm quickly soured and Nissan is second major sponsor to leave the sport in the past few months.

Rabobank also walked away from its long-running sponsorship of its namesake Dutch team in the wake of the USADA case against former seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

Like Nissan, it agreed to pay its financial commitments and the team will ride as “Blanco” next season while management searches out new backers.