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Saxo Bank announced Sunday it will stick with team owner Bjarne Riis regardless of the outcome of doping allegations leveled against Alberto Contador.
The online trading and investment company had planned to end its title sponsorship at the end of 2010, but decided to stay on in large part thanks to the arrival of three-time Tour de France champion Contador.
Contador’s positive doping case for traces of clenbuterol and growing uncertainty about his immediate future cast doubts about Saxo Bank’s resolve. Those questions ended Sunday when the Danish company announced it would stick with Riis in 2011, with or without Contador.
“I am truly happy and grateful to know that Saxo Bank sees the value in continuing their support of our team even before the adjudication and their decision to come through only underlines their integrity,” Riis said on the team’s Web site. “The big mutual respect between us is a result of the strong and loyal partnership we have developed throughout the last couple of years.”
There were some reports in Danish media about doubts of Saxo Bank’s resolve to stick with its sponsorship commitments following the shattering news that Contador tested positive for traces of clenbuterol during a rest-day control at the 2010 Tour.
The UCI had told Contador about his positive test in late August, but he did not immediately notify Riis, with whom he had signed a multi-year, multimillion-euro contract to headline the team starting in 2011.
Contador and Riis have spoken via telephone and Riis has since publicly declared that he believes Contador’s claims that the positive test stemmed from his consumption of contaminated meat.
Riis said all he can do is wait to see the outcome of Contador’s case.
“Of course, we hope that Alberto is acquitted and can ride as planned in 2011, but for now, we hold our nerve and await what will happen,” Riis continued. “Obviously, I am proud of the confidence that Saxo Bank, SunGard and Specialized have in me and the team.”
With the Schleck brothers and some of the key riders and staff leaving Saxo Bank to join the yet-unnamed Luxembourg team, the news will come as a relief to Riis and the riders and staff remaining.
The squad’s future was uncertain at the start of the 2010 Tour, when it appeared that Saxo Bank was ending its sponsorship deal and Riis did not announce the name of a new sponsor, though he insisted he had one.
This is not the first time Riis has had to count on continuing support from corporate sponsors in light of doping scandals — though Contador, of course, was not on Riis’s Saxo Bank team in 2010.
Things were very different in 2006, when team captain Ivan Basso was linked to the Operación Puerto blood doping network. Basso vehemently denied any association with Puerto ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, yet Basso was not allowed to start the 2006 Tour just weeks after winning the Giro d’Italia.
Basso was temporarily suspended and never raced again in a Riis jersey. Basso joined Discovery Channel in 2007, but later admitted his role in the Puerto scandal after heavy pressure from Italian prosecutor Ettori Torri, eventually serving a two-year racing ban.
Then-sponsor CSC — a California-based software company — decided to stick by Riis, especially after Riis decided to introduce a ground-breaking, independently monitored anti-doping program for the riders on his team.