By VeloNews Interactive
The day after Lance Armstrong scored a rare double victory in a single day at the Dodge Tour de Georgia, the U.S. Postal Service announced that it will cease sponsoring the five-time Tour de France winner and his team at the end of the 2004 season.
The postal service, which has sponsored the team for eight years in an effort to increase business overseas, has decided to go “in another direction” with its advertising, spokesman Gerry McKiernan told The Associated Press.
The agency has been criticized for spending money on the sponsorship, particularly in light of three postal-rate increases in 2000 and 2001.
“Any sensible private-sector company would have yanked the sponsorship and refocused its resources on its core mission,” Leslie Paige of Citizens Against Government Waste said in a statement carried Friday by AFP. “Europeans may love Lance Armstrong, but that admiration did not translate into more revenue for the USPS.”
Armstrong, predictably, had a very different reaction.
“It’s always tough news to hear when your title sponsor decides to pull out, so I have mixed emotions,” he said after today’s fifth stage in Georgia.
“But predominately I have great memories and great feelings towards them because in 1998, they were the company and the sponsor and the team that stepped up and gave me a chance to race again when many other teams wouldn’t. So clearly without them, there wouldn’t have been one Tour victory, like I’ve said before.”
Armstrong, who is gearing up to try for an unprecedented sixth consecutive Tour victory in July, added that now “is an interesting time to stop. I think the team is better than ever. I think we can continue to compete at the top level and win Tours and win big races. We’re confident that we can find somebody else.”
Still, he added: “I have nothing but good things to say about Postal. In our world, when you talk about sponsors, they can be difficult or they can be easy in terms of their demands, and Postal was always a very easy sponsor. They sat back and said, ‘You guys know what you are doing. You just try to fulfill your goals of the year,’ which was to win the Tour, and they were happy with that. If we didn’t win Paris-Roubaix they didn’t call and scream, cuss and yell, and wonder what happened.”
Asked whether the team might wind up with an international, non-American sponsor, Armstrong replied that he felt a suitable new title sponsor might be found among companies “with a European focus or least the ambition of increasing their exposure in Europe. There are plenty of technology companies and other logical companies that are not based in America.”
However, he continued: “I think the team will still be based in America. The team will still be registered as an American team. That’s what counts.”