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Landis case prompts Phonak to dump cycling

Andy Rihs (right) has had enough of cycling being synonomous with doping Keystone

The Swiss Phonak cycling team of Tour de France winner Floyd Landis is to disband at the end of the year, announced owner Andy Rihs in Zurich on Tuesday.

The announcement comes ten days after Phonak sacked team leader Landis, who failed a drug test during the Tour that revealed abnormally high levels of testosterone.

Rihs said that the deciding factor in the decision to disband was the doping case against Landis.

The American rider has denied any wrongdoing, but he could be stripped of his Tour victory after a second test on a urine sample confirmed the presence of a synthetic form of testosterone.

“As a passionate cyclist, I am bitterly disappointed that the sport of cycling apparently has become a synonym for doping… I truly regret this development,” Rihs told a news conference in Zurich.

Rihs, who is chairman and the owner of the Phonak hearing aid company, said that a planned deal for sponsorship of the team to be taken over by iShares, a subsidiary of Barclays Bank, had fallen through.

He said he had done everything possible to avoid any doping cases in his team and had introduced the strictest controls internally of all ProTour teams but the “fatal solo initiative” of one rider could not be avoided.

“For this reason, today I see myself forced to do something I have never done in my whole life as a businessman: I have given up.”

Deep regret

He added that he deeply regretted not being able to continue offering support to Swiss and international riders at the highest level of cycling.

“I’m particularly sorry for our young promising Swiss riders, who share no guilt in this development, as well as for the competent staff members.”

The statement said the Phonak team’s management and Rihs had searched intensively for alternatives over the last few days but it had become clear that successor solutions were not possible.

Financial reasons as well as the uncertainty about the renewal of the ProTour licence that expired at the end of the year weighed in the decision.

The team’s next task will be to look after its riders and staff, hopefully placing them with other teams, within the next two months, it added.

The Phonak company had earlier said it was “extremely disheartened” by the positive test of Landis’s second sample and confirmed it would end its sponsorship of the cycling team by the end of the year.

It added that after seven years of sponsoring a sports team, it was looking forward to present in the autumn its new involvement in the Arts which would have a closer link to the sense of hearing.

Phonak Hearing Systems is an official supplier of communication for the yacht syndicate Alinghi, the Swiss defender of the 32nd America’s Cup.

swissinfo with agencies

On July 27 it was announced that a test on Phonak’s Floyd Landis after Stage 17 of the Tour de France on July 20 showed an “unusually high” level of testosterone in his urine.

On August 1 reports said a synthetic form of the hormone had been found, throwing doubts on his claims that it was a natural occurrence.

A second test confirmed the presence of exogenous testosterone in Landis’ body, making him the first winner of the Tour to be tested positive for doping.

In March 2006 Swiss Phonak rider Sascha Urweider was suspended following a positive test for high levels of the male hormone.

In 2004 three Phonak riders were all found guilty of doping violations and fired: Tyler Hamilton and Santiago Perez (blood doping) and Oscar Camenzind (EPO).

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR