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May 25, 2006

Bombshell: Liberty Seguros ceases sponsorship of team

procycling | Liberty Seguros pulls plug on Saiz! The Spanish arm of Liberty Mutual will stop sponsoring one of Spain's premier cycling squads, after the team's director was arrested in connection with a blood doping probe. Six riders from Liberty Seguros are still contesting the Giro, but ProCycling quotes a release from the parent company that they are ceasing sponsorship as of today. The Boston-based company had modified its sponsorship after team rider Roberto Heras tested positive for EPO during last year's Vuelta a España, and cited the tighter anti-doping terms in ending its sponsorship:

"The implications of Manolo Saiz's detention are highly alarming: they damage our name and cycling's name," the statement continued.

Among the team's riders are Alexandre Vinokourov, Alberto Contador, Davide Etxebarria, Andrey Kashechkin, and Allan Davis; the fate of the riders' contracts is currently up in the air. Also: VeloNews.com | Liberty pulls plug on sponsorship VeloNews quotes from this L'Equipe story (in French | Google English translation) that a Spanish radio network is reporting that Jan Ullrich was among Fuentes' clients, along with about 200 others, after claiming Tuesday that Basso was. Both riders have previously worked with Luigi Cecchini, mentioned in some stories as a friend and collaborator with Fuentes. Like Basso, Ullrich denies receiving medical support from Cecchini, but says the doctor has assisted with his training. In any case, Ullrich said on the T-Mobile web site: “I have never worked together with Fuentes.” VN also reports that Vinokourov says, characteristically, that he's riding the Tour, team or no team. cyclingnews.com | Liberty Seguros terminate contract

Posted by Frank Steele on May 25, 2006 in Alberto Contador, Alexandre Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Doping, Jan Ullrich, Jorg Jaksche, Joseba Beloki, Luis Sanchez, Manolo Saiz, Top Stories | Permalink

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Comments

Point of Clarification. Velonews stated, "L'Equipe reported that the Kazakh rider, third overall in the 2003 Tour, said that he would race the Tour one way or another, with Liberty Seguros or another team."

Not that Vino would ride th Tour, team or no team. These statements mean two completely different things.

Posted by: Frank at May 25, 2006 4:55:35 PM

Frank -- obviously, he's not getting into the Tour as a solo rider.

Since Liberty Seguros doesn't actually own the team, their exit might not mean the end of the team. Wurth could step up, another sponsor could step in (maybe a blood bag manufacturer, or Amgen?). As a practical matter, this is probably the kiss of death to this squad appearing in the '06 Tour, because I don't see the Tour organizers wanting to allow a team whose sponsors have given such a vote of no-confidence.

Just as Tailwind Sports owns the Discovery Channel team, ActiveBay owns Liberty Seguros, and owned ONCE prior to that, starting in 1989. The team could be disbanded, kicked out of the ProTour, or reorganized without Saiz.

But Vinokourov is signalling that he's looking for an escape hatch; if whatever happens means he's ineligible for the Tour, he's not going down with the team, and it sounds like he'll try to get his contract purchased. Of course, if he's connected to any of the reported blood bags, all bets are off.

Posted by: TdFblog's Frank at May 25, 2006 5:26:52 PM

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