T-Mobile: Taking their sponsorship dollars and going home [GALLO/GETTY] 

Deutsche Telekom AG is ending its sponsorship of professional cycling due to continuing problems of doping within the sport.

The company has sponsored a team since 1991. Recently known as T-Mobile, it was considered one of the top teams on the ProTour.

"We arrived at this decision to separate our brand from further exposure from doping in sport and cycling specifically," Deutsche Telekom said in a statement.

Former T-Mobile rider Patrik Sinkewitz, who was fired recently after testing positive before the Tour de France, testified that doping was widespread at the team, both before and after Jan Ullrich was its main star.

Ullrich won the Tour de France in 1997.

He retired after being linked to the Spanish doping scandal but has denied any wrongdoing.

Other former Telekom riders have admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs, including 1996 Tour de France champion Bjarne Riis.

U-turn

Three months ago, Deutsche Telekom agreed to honour its sponsorship contract until 2010, but reserved the right to terminate it at any time in case of any more doping scandals.

Its decision to pull out was the latest and most serious blow to the sport in Germany, where support for cycling has eroded after the series of doping scandals.

Gerolsteiner will pull the plug on its team at the end of 2008 and Adidas earlier this month dropped its support of T-Mobile.

"This was a difficult decision given our long history of support for professional cycling and the efforts of Bob Stapleton in managing the team in 2007," said Hamid Akhavan, a Telekom board member and chief executive officer of T-Mobile International.

"We have an obligation to our employees, customers and shareholders to focus our attention and resources on our core businesses," Akhavan added.

"We have worked very hard with the current team management to promote a clean cycling sport but we reached the decision to continue our efforts to rid all sports of doping by applying our resources in other directions."

Akhavan said the company's decision was not based on any disagreement with team management.

Stapleton said the team would continue to compete under the name "Team High Road", the name of his company, and would retain all 29 riders.

Stapleton has a ProTour license valid through 2010.

"We hope to go forward independently with the team to achieve our goals of continued competitive success and being a leader in anti-doping efforts in professional cycling," Stapleton said.

Sinkewitz tested positive for elevated testosterone levels during training on June 8, a month before the 2007 Tour de France started.

He testified before German cycling authorities in a bid to receive a lenient sentence and was banned for one year, instead of the usual two-year term. He was also fined.

"It's not a surprise," Sinkewitz said after the Telekom announcement.

"It's a pity that some things went wrong in the past. A completely new start was made recently and some things had changed. Too bad that the sponsor is quitting now."

'Useful information'

In the past, Sinkewitz had praised Stapleton's attempts to keep T-Mobile clean.

Sinkewitz reveled that doping in the T-Mobile team continued in 2006, later than previously known.

His testimony also led the German federal police to search the homes and former offices of two doctors suspected of providing performance-enhancing drugs to riders.

The searches were part of an investigation against doctors Andreas Schmid and Lothar Heinrich, both specialists in sports medicine.

Sinkewitz had given the cycling federation "useful information" about how the doping systems work in the sport, according to his lawyer.

German prosecutors dropped a criminal investigation of Sinkewitz on possible fraud charges in return for the payment of a "five-figure" fine and in recognition of his cooperation.

Sinkewitz's positive test was announced during the Tour and caused German public TV stations ARD and ZDF to drop their coverage of cycling's premier
event.

The TV stations and sponsors had warned that they would drop the sport if the doping scandals that had rocked cycling for years didn't stop.

Deutsche Telekom shares were up 1.1 percent at $22.29 in Frankfurt trading after the announcement.

Source: Agencies