In many ways the Discovery Channel team has been cycling's model franchise since its inception, in 1989. Its riders—Lance Armstrong, mostly—have won eight of the last nine Tours de France and, at least by the sport's standards, Discovery has been one of cycling's few clean outfits. Though some of its riders have been dogged by doping suspicions—again, mostly Lance—none has ever failed a test for banned substances.
Still, Discovery is the latest victim of cycling's drug problem. Last Friday the owners of the team, which is run by Austin-based Tailwind Sports and has been sponsored by the Discovery Channel since 2005, announced that it will disband after this season, largely because the sport's frequent drug scandals are making it difficult to find new sponsors. (In February the Discovery Channel announced it will terminate its cycling involvement after this year.) Said general manager Bill Stapleton, whose team was looking for a sponsorship deal worth $45 million over three years, "We can't control the sport and we can't control other teams, and we couldn't in good conscience recommend that a sponsor come in. It's just not an environment conducive to a big investment."
Many other companies are coming to the same conclusion. Several sponsors have said they will withdraw support from teams in the International Cycling Union's 20-member ProTour after this season. Last week T-Mobile said it will still sponsor a team, but only if it has the right to end its affiliation if any of its riders fail a drug test. Discovery, the only elite ICU team based in the U.S., at least ended its run on a high note. Earlier this month Alberto Contador gave the team its eighth Tour championship—though his victory was marred by unproven accusations that he was doping. "It's a sad day for cycling," Armstrong said last Friday. "But cycling will survive."
BETTER DAYS Contador won, but Discovery is folding.