|ZURICH, Switzerland (AP) - Floyd Landis' former cycling team will shut down at the end of the season. Phonak owner Andy Rihs said Tuesday that he has been unable to find a buyer for his team since Landis, this year's Tour de France champion, was busted for doping.|
"I've had to do something I've never done in my whole life: Give up," Rihs said.
The Swiss hearing-aid firm had already decided to pull its sponsorship because of doping issues. American company iShares, a subsidiary of Barclays Bank, was to replace Phonak as title sponsor in 2007, but the deal was called off after Landis' positive doping tests. The 30-year-old Landis tested positive for an unusually high amount of testosterone after a tough Alpine stage on July 20 - when he made a remarkable comeback and went on to win the Tour de France. Both his "A" and "B" samples tested positive.
Rihs said the Landis doping scandal led to the shutdown of the team.
"I am deeply disappointed because what he did was what led to this decision," Rihs said. "I would never say this is a bad person because he played bad. I regret what he has done for him, too."
Phonak's image had already been badly damaged by 10 other doping cases since the Swiss-based team was launched seven seasons ago. The International Cycling Union refused to issue Phonak a racing license for 2005 because of the team's doping record after three Phonak riders - 2004 Olympic time trial champion Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Camenzind and Santi Perez - were all found guilty of doping violations in 2004 and fired.
The team was only allowed to race after appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled last year that Phonak should have a two-year license.
Phonak team manager John Lelangue had no answer for the unusually high number of cheating athletes within the Phonak team over the years.
"It's all individual cases. There were old guys, young guys, experienced guys, with and without results," Lelangue said. "There was no one common profile. It's a very unfortunate coincidence."
Rihs said he stayed up late Monday to negotiate with a few potential investors. Running the team requires an investment of up to $13.7 million a year, and the uncertainty of receiving a racing license didn't help.
The cyclists were informed of his decision Tuesday morning by telephone.
Lelangue said his next task will be looking after the team's riders and staff, hopefully placing them with other teams within the next couple of months.
There has been talk that UCI and the Tour de France might consider suing Landis, but Rihs said he wouldn't take that step.
"I would never consider suing him. The greatest damage done is already done. There is no going back," Rihs said. "Everybody knows the risks and if you play in that business you have to take the responsibilities that go with that risk."
Rihs and Lelangue insisted they had never suspected Landis might be doping.
"I never doubted him," Rihs said. "He was a good boy, you know?"