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Discovery Channel cycling team to disband

August 10, 2007|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

Discovery Channel, the only U.S.-based professional level cycling team, will announce today that it has been unable to find a new sponsor and will disband at the end of the 2007 racing season, according to sources

The team partially owned by seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong has been searching for a new sponsor since last spring when the cable television company announced it would not re-sign.

While Discovery Channel executives had said they were not influenced by the ongoing doping scandals that have plagued the sport for over a year, it left the team trying to find a new title sponsor willing to spend upward of $14 million a year in a climate of constant negative publicity.

Under pressure to showcase its team, Discovery Channel produced both the Tour de France winner (Spain's Alberto Contador) and third-place finisher (Levi Leipheimer of Santa Rosa, Calif.) last month.

On Thursday, T-Mobile, the sponsor of the German team that had a rider suspended during last month's tour for failing a drug test, announced it was continuing its sponsorship through 2010. A T-Mobile source said that U.S. national champion George Hincapie, who has ridden for Discovery Channel (and its previous incarnation United States Postal Service), would be signing a contract with the company for next season.

Also, Contador and Discovery Channel team director Johan Bruyneel are having a news conference in Spain today amid reports that Contador's role in the Spanish drug investigation Operacion Puerto is not as innocent as Contador and Bruyneel have claimed.

Contador, who was barred this week from riding in a one-day classic race in Hamburg, Germany, because of his alleged connection to Operacion Puerto, had said during the Tour de France that his name appeared in the Spanish documents only because he trained with riders who were being treated by Operacion Puerto doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

Discovery Channel officials were unavailable for comment Thursday and Contador has reportedly said he would only read a statement today and not take questions.

There has been a U.S.-based professional team since 1981 when Jim Ochowicz founded the 7-Eleven team. In 1991, Motorola took over sponsorship until 1996 when the United States Postal Service (USPS) became the title sponsor. It was the USPS team that first nurtured Armstrong and hired Bruyneel.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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