Discovery Channel Cycling Team Disbands
By JIM VERTUNO, AP Sports Writer

Friday, August 10, 2007

(08-10) 15:18 PDT Austin, Texas (AP) --

The Lance Armstrong era in cycling is over. Citing fractious leadership in the sport, constant doping allegations and the struggles of finding a new sponsor, Armstrong and the owners of his former Discovery Channel team said Friday the squad will disband after this season.

Armstrong said it was the perfect time to go out on top: Discovery's Alberto Contador of Spain won the team's eighth Tour de France title in nine years last month.

"It's a sad day for cycling. Certainly a sad day for American cycling," Armstrong said. "We're proud of our record."

The decision shuts down the sport's only elite professional team based in the United States. Armstrong retired from riding in 2005 but remained a visible co-owner of the team operated by Tailwind Sports.

Discovery announced in February it would not sponsor the team beyond this year. Team General Manager Bill Stapleton acknowledged difficulty securing new sponsorship with the sport under the constant pressure of doping allegations.

"It's not an environment right now that's conducive to a lot of investment," Stapleton said, adding the team was in talks with several potential sponsors. "This was a difficult decision, not made any easier by our recent Tour de France success."

Armstrong said he believes a sponsor could have been found, but the ownership group decided now was the time to quit.

Armstrong can turn his attention to his cancer foundation and politics he is hosting a cancer forum with presidential candidates later this month and is a key player behind a $3 billion research initiative in Texas and team director Johan Bruyneel is retiring.

"This is not about the lack of a sponsor," Armstrong said. "Right now is a good time to step aside."

The team was a dominant force in cycling for nearly a decade.

Armstrong won the first of his record seven consecutive Tour de France titles in 1999 racing under the U.S. Postal Service banner. The team built cycling's top lineup as Armstrong and his lieutenants powered their way through France and maintained that dominance when Contador won the Tour and American teammate Levi Leipheimer finished third.

Discovery will still ride in this year's Tour of Spain and the Tour of Missouri, but the shutdown means Contador, Leipheimer and the 25 other riders must find new teams for 2008.

"They leave with the Discovery stamp," Bruyneel said. "I'm sure they will be very wanted."

Contador has been dogged by recent doping allegations, and on Friday denied again taking performance-enhancing drugs and any involvement in the Operation Puerto investigation.

"I've never committed a doping offense. I've never been involved in any act of doping," Contador said. "My promise against doping is absolute."

Although he never failed a drug test, Armstrong has been forced several times in recent years to deny repeated allegations that he use banned substances during his career.

Discovery also signed top Italian rider Ivan Basso in 2006 but was later forced to drop him when he was caught up in the Spanish blood-doping investigation.

"We had our share of controversies," Armstrong said before ticking off a list of team victories over the years. "And not one positive (drug) test."

Bruyneel oversaw each of the team's eight Tour victories.

"I'm going to miss the staff, riders and the excitement of the races, but not all the infighting between the teams. This team has become my family and it is very sad to think that we will not be together next season," he said.


Associated Press writers John Leicester in Paris and Paul Logothetis in Madrid, Spain, contributed to this report.