Rabobank Close Their Account

Rabobank Team

Dutch bank Rabobank has announced it will quit men’s pro cycling at the end of this year. The team will continue for 2013, only with a blank jersey funded by the contractual obligations left behind.

It’s another shock for the sport, especially since the team was finally trying to put its past behind it. Indeed one of the characteristics of the USADA report and other scandals is that they tend to drive out the good guys. Worse this might not be the last sponsor to flee.

Rabobank has seen plenty of scandal over the years but remained a fixture in the sport. Michael Rasmussen was ejected in the middle of the 2007 Tour de France whilst wearing the yellow jersey and team manager Theo de Rooij resigned but we can add much more, yesterday alone saw the UCI initiate the prosecution of Carlos Barredo over suspect bio-passport data and La Gazzetta Dello Sport named previous Rabo riders like Denis Menchov in an investigation. For a company looking to promote its image yesterday was a disaster.

However I wrote just a month ago that the team was turning things around. Old ways were going, whether it a careless recruitment policy that didn’t ask where results came from or even the team doctor outed by Levi Leipheimer for selling EPO. In came fresh coaching staff and a new approach that was genuine and stronger than PR. But distancing yourself from the past is awkward, there is no easy way to escape old mistakes.

We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future
Bert Bruggink, Rabobank CFO and Director

Rabobank’s management have little faith in the future. No wonder since they’ve been promised fresh starts, new dawns and other metaphors only to find their brand linked to trouble. But these are damning words that echo around the sport as teams, races and others try to attract sponsors and viewers.

No Cash Withdrawal
The good news is that the team lives on, at least for 2013. The bus will be repainted and the team will ride in a blank jersey, perhaps even adding a sponsor because that textile real estate is valuable, maybe cycle manufacturer Giant steps up. The sponsorship deal was around $20 million per year and most of this funding will remain to cover rider wages and more. Still, it says something that Rabobank will pay not to have their name on the jersey in 2013, they could have said they’re quitting in one year but have decided to run today.

Put simply Rabobank has to respect its contracts. This includes the women’s team and if the situation is not clear, they have said they will help Marianne Vos and others until 2016. Similarly Rabobank will continue to support grass roots cycling; we probably only see the top of the pyramid but they are prolific supporters of local sport.

It’s Happened Before
T-Mobile backed out of the sport in late 2007 after a wave of Skandal. It left a pot of cash and a blank jersey under the name Team Highroad which in time became a great team but struggled to find sponsors. Similarly the Astana team can trace its genesis back to the sudden departure of financial services company Liberty Seguros in the wake of the Operation Puerto scandal, prompting rider Alexander Vinokourov to work his Kazakh connections and fund the team.

The Past, The Present and The Future
Last week Luis-Leon Sanchez was outed as a client of Dr Ferrari. Rabobank investigated and were reassured by the Spaniard that Ferrari was coaching the Caisse d’Epargne team and there was no doping. But hang on a minute, Sanchez just said Ferrari was coaching the Spanish team. Is anyone asking Movistar management what on earth was going on?

The French bank that sponsored this squad was sickened by the revelations star rider Valverde was caught by Puerto and also quit the sport. I can reveal they too considered leaving mid-season because of the scandal but feared being seen to run away would damage their brand. Instead they quietly left when their contract was up at the end of the year.

It’s issues like this which blast the idea that this is all in the past. Whenever a rider, official, manager or fan tries to pretend the USADA report is about the past they’re proven wrong by present events. People can no longer say “nothing to do with me, it was years ago” because it is their sport and their future. A rider today has to stand up and say they’re doing it right.

The UCI reaction
The governing body has put out a response which thanks Rabobank for their 17 commitment but bizarrely tries to blame the public for some of this:

In light of the difficult period, namely the high public interest in past doping issues and perhaps a more recent action taken by the UCI against a rider of the team, the UCI understands the context which has led to this decision being reached.

It’s odd to see public interest in doping cited as the problem as opposed to the chronic doping itself, no? No doubt the sport is getting scandalous headlines but the public really want to see a fair contest and a sport they can believe in. The UCI can’t rush its review of USADA’s reasoned decision but today concerns about jurisdiction seem out of place when good sponsors are going.

Rabobank break a 17 year history in the sport. It feels bad to quit now, as if there is some hope but they are a bank not a charity and besides, they’ve believed the hype before about reform only to open the newspapers and get scandal.

Still, the sport loses a good sponsor, one that was increasingly becoming interested in the governance of its team and even the sport as a whole, exploring the idea of a breakaway league and directing new approaches to training. It was the kind of company you’d welcome in the sport.

We’ll still get a team on the road for 2013. New management were expecting a challenge, this changes everything. Unlike T-Mobile which left a vast pot of money as it fled, Rabobank don’t seem to be funding beyond 2013. So the risk is the managers are fighting fires and riders are talking contracts with other teams rather than building something together.

Finally Rabobank are not the only major sponsor to be driven out of the sport. I understand another high profile sponsor is reviewing its contract with a view to quitting the sport.

102 thoughts on “Rabobank Close Their Account”

    • The top guys are not untouchable, their position is looking increasingly untenable. The UCI will carry on regardless, but all this pressure will shake out current and former senior guys. They’ll have to be dragged out kicking and screaming, I don’t doubt, I see no chance of a dignified clean break, but I cannot see them surviving this lot.

      Great blog, by the way, and I donated to Kimmage partly as a thank you.

    • Looking through the pro tour list I think probables for a withdrawal are


      I don’t think Saxo would pull out just based on seeing how closely the team in entwined with their corporate ID and FDJ seems unlikely so a long list of four?

      • Don’t know why Sharp would pull out so soon? FDJ doing so would surprise me more than Rabobank.

        Lampre are caught up in the Padova/Ferrari and Mantova investigations in a big way.

      • I don’t think Saxo would pull out just based on seeing how closely the team in entwined with their corporate ID

        That also means their corporate ID is closely entwined with Bjarne “Mr. 60%” Riis and Alberto Contador. Not ideal for a bank. Still, from their Wikipedia-page I learn that the owners are libertarians who give a copy of Atlas Shrugged to every new employee, so maybe they don’t care about how you win, as long as you win.

  1. not sure they would have had a choice about the sponsorship for next seeing as it’s the end of the major transfer season. I would certainly want it written into my contract that, in the case of the sponsor pulling, I’m not left to sit out the year because the other chairs around the table have been filled.

  2. “Finally Rabobank are not the only major sponsor to be driven out of the sport. I understand another high profile sponsor is reviewing its contract with a view to quitting the sport.” ??????????????

  3. Might the team’s management donate the ‘valuable textile real estate’ to Bike Pure or another antidoping organisation? Obviously this would involve raising the teams own internal antidoping practices. Could this help win a new sponsor for 2014 onwards?

  4. There’s been talks about Rabo quitting the sport, but I never took that this serious. They had only just renewed their contract, after all.

    I wonder what will become of my favourite team…

  5. Sad to see them go, but
    -I’m glad they don’t pull out of all the local activities, that would have been a huge blow to the sport in NL. Maybe they now even have extra money left for that?
    -I can only hope this helps build up the momentum for real change. How much more is needed before UCI management is forced to step down to make way for people who are seriously trying to get rid of the doping culture?

  6. Sad day for cycling. I think it will be a strange sight, the peloton without the Dutch orange brigade. But totally understandable. 15-20 million per year is a lot of money and why spend it on corruption, doping and other illegal activities.

  7. I hope this sorry period in pro cycling is the FINAL rinse and it can emerge cleaner and whiter. I use the word “hope” with great weight.

  8. It would not surprise me to see Rabo back IF something like a breakaway league with team franchises that have a share in the TV revenue comes about. If it could be seen as a clean (pardon the pun) break with the old then it is possible. This goes for other, more mainstream companies as well. Rabobank’s statement regarding ‘the sport’ takes fair aim at the UCI. A new system may change this.

    What may happen is that that sponsors will want management say – not just handing over sponsorship dollars. That way they can have more control over the team image, and are not continually blindsided by revelations from ‘thier’ team.

    Ironically I believe the best chance of cleaning up the sport is for the teams themselves to be the police, and the main line of defence against doping. They would have to be motivated to do so (attaching the TV revenue share percentages on clean records perhaps). The best way of preventing (non USPS type) doping is for an end to riders going off and training themselves for long periods. If teams were motivated by management (by money not just ethics) then maybe the dopers don’t make the start line.

    While the biggest blind spot of this is that a disgruntled employee could then blackmail or bring down a team with a positive, surely that risk is better than what we have now?

  9. It people like this blogger and the rabid anti-doper fans that can look themselves in the mirror and take credit for this. By making doping the only topic that gets widespread media attention, this is an inevitable result. You all think you are somehow helping cycling by dredging up the past, but you are wrong. The casual fans all think it is a joke and potential sponsors won’t touch the sport. Reap what you sow.

  10. If I were Rabobank I wouldn’t let them put any new sponsors on those jerseys. I want them blank. Orange and Blue. No names. Honor the financial commitment. Make a statement. You can put new names on there next year when we’re done.

    And Rabobank is directly calling out the UCI with the “no confidence” in the future. Every sponsor might consider a break and force UCI to overhaul and get their act together or these companies aren’t risking $20 million to fund their party. Game over folks. This is different from now on or these become slightly more oganized Sunday rides.

    Also, there is a lot of talk from current era riders about how penalizing this is to them due to actions by riders from the past. Saying they have nothing to do with it. This should foment a new level of honor in the peloton and self policing by riders and management and the entire freaking industry at every position to deter losers from taking down a beautiful sport. And more to their interests, professional’s paychecks.

    • It wouldn’t be surprising if many more non-cycling sponsors left the sport. Maybe this spurs riders and management to pursue a new league and remove UCI from the picture. Unfortunately, such a thing would take many years to materialize and I hate to imagine the state of pro cycling by that time. Wasn’t the ‘Vaughters’ plan scrapped over the summer?

    • How do we know that current era riders are really clean? How do we know they haven’t moved on beyond Dr. Ferrari and his means, and are a generation or two of new drugs ahead? How do we know that there aren’t several other ‘BALCO-type’ labs making and selling PED’s for which there are no current detection tests, not by blood, and not by urine?

      A new-generation, sophisticated cheater would certainly take this opportunity to be considered part of the new, clean, peleton. Just as Lance himself did not so many years ago.

      Let’s not assume that outing the old dopers and their support systems rids us of all dopers. The same motivating factors for the ‘old’ dopers are still present for today’s riders. Catching those we’ve caught up to, doesn’t mean that there aren’t others still ahead of us.

      • A “clean” peloton just makes the rewards for doping greater. There have always been cheaters. There will always be cheaters. Sad. Unfortunate. But true.

  11. The sport has to go through this but I gebuinelly think that sponsors pulling out now are missing the start of a golden age of cycling….all this shit is from 7 years ago..albeit with a few characters still around from then…… The sport is coming good now. Most winners of the big races can be believed and the biological passport is revolutionary for sport worldwide if followed through by UCI. Perhaps we just need a new governing body!

    • The main point of the USADA report is that this isn’t all from 7 years ago – doping continues to infect pro cycling. Most of the people involved are still around, they just keep changing teams and roles. Athletes who doped are now team directors, managers and coaches. “Doctors” who provided doping products to athletes in the past are working with new athletes today. The conspirists remain, and they continue to spread the taint of doping. Every year we hear how cycling is cleaning up it’s act, yet it is clear that it is only shuffling the dirty cards in the deck. We want to believe that today’s winners are clean, but the evidence suggests that is very unlikely.

    • I think you’re being a little optimistic. Look at the guys who are getting caught out in the investigation of Dr. Ferrari.

      The edge gained is smaller, but make no mistake, guys are still cheating.
      Professional athletes always will.

  12. To me, the silence from the UCI on the USADA report sends a clear message to sponsors that the UCI isn’t responsible to police the sport.

  13. yes the UCI. Until its role in the sport is revised and clarified and until a new set of people at the top are in place we cannot go forward in a meaningful way. People who’ve left like Gripper and Ashenden need to be persuaded back and lets have more of their ilk and less of the present bunch of clowns

  14. It’s sad to see all this happening to our sport. Perhaps this is one more strong statement to all of us – fans, sponsors, cycling institions, and riders – that we need to stop hiding or passively overlooking the transgressions and cheating even if it becomes just a few riders and supporting staff. I believe that one of the most significant problems has been due to the “Omerta” code of silence among riders and teams. An important part of the longer term solution is to somehow enable clean riders to impose peer pressure to help identify and eliminate the cheaters. As we’re seeing (again), everyone else loses when cheaters are “enabled” to achieve their short-term gains. Sponsors and fans want assurance that the riders themselves are acting responsibly to clean up their sport, and that the clean riders will not tolerate cheaters in the peloton.

  15. Oh I really hope the Movistar team goes down hard. It was obvious to me that is dirty from the way they shrugged off Valverde’s doping past and welcomed him back as a hero.

    They should give riders a one month window to come in and testify about their doping past. If they cooperate fully and name names then the rider should get a light punishment. After that window closes, the UCI should come down really hard on anyone that had not come clean but was outed by other riders.

    The culture amongst the peloton needs to change to an attitude of riders wanting to out anybody that cheats. Riders should see that the sport being clean is what will bring back the big sponsors and be in their own interest.

    • The more this goes on, I think your solution is the right one.

      Open amnesty period where riders/coaches/etc. can confess their past cheating, in detail, with no repurcussions.
      Following this, any rider caught cheating gets a lifetime ban.

      Think the UCI have it in them? Me neither.

  16. This is only the start of a predicted mass exodus of corporate sponsorship of millions of Euros. Does anyone ask why Livestrong-Bontrager u23 can continue as if nothing happened WTF….really don’t you think having the youth still under the shadow of such an evil man in Austin, TX is a good idea? Didn’t the UCI end Rock Racing application process in 2010….I can’t see why they would allow this team when ONE of their WORLD TOUR teams will ride a BLANK jersey for 2013…that in its self is a reflection on the UCI…dark days. AEG Sports in the States (Amgen Tour of California) is up for sale…no one is going to purchase it’s debt on bike racing now and continue it so I would bet this will be the last year for that event? And everyone Thom Weisel is still in power of USA Cycling….he hatched the dopage plan with LA….the whole American cycling institution needs to CLEAN HOUSE….BMC and GARMIN. Back to 1979 people.

  17. Cycle sport fans maybe can put money where their mouth is and try the fan club model, ergo, Green Bay Packers, Athletic Bilbao, etc.


    Logic: Funding stability through fan affinity. Maximum profit return to owners not a primary consideration. Less pressure on results -translates- less enticement to “dope” (assumption)

    Elementary math: team annual budget of €15 million; fan club owner annual fee of €100 per fan; thus, requires 15,000,000 fan club owners for a single Pro Tour level team. Yikes. This won’t likely happen. 😉

    • I’m in if we hire INRNG as team manager, although when we see him hanging out of the car window banging on the door Madiot-style his anonymity would be shot.

      • It’s happening already, people in the Netherlands are looking into this.

        As for the Madiot door banging there’s a good story to this which I will share on here at some point over the winter. Things weren’t as they seemed

        • Things are rarely as they seem in this Bizarro World.

          A fan-sponsored team is interesting conceptually. It probably works best when the team is a local phenomenon on some level (either riders from a certain geography – Euskadi, or the team is based and competes in your town – like traditional team sports). Despite the fact that it clearly is a team sport, we regularly follow only the individual results in cycling. Who was third in the team classification at TdF this year? To Sky fans, is Cav now your arch-rival? I think JV identified this as something he sought to rectify with Garmin-Sharp; sponsors and fans, attach yourselves to the team not the riders. But, the team has to value individual riders’ points, and maybe that complicates things as well…

  18. I’m surprised RadioShack hasn’t pulled their name off the team. Bruyneel is gone, but their connection to cycling, which was hard to understand in the first place, is forever tainted by their affiliation with those most connected to the scandal.

  19. I’ve enjoyed watching the Tour for many years.
    Now the whole thing stinks, your sport is falling apart.
    Think of how the general public now view pro cycle racing!

    Congratulations to USADA – you got your man!

  20. Unfortunately, I think moves like this are what is needed to clean up the sport. As sponsors leave teams, team budgets and rider salaries will decrease. This will provide less of an incentive to dope since there will be less of a reward. In the end the cost/benefit of doping needs to change. If the paycheck is smaller why would you continue to spend significant amounts of money of dope for a slight increase in salary. Also, Ferrari was taking a portion of the riders salary. Would a doctor work with doping cyclist if the salaries decrease?

    Yes, this is unfortunate for the current clean riders, but if something does not happen then we’ll just get into the same mess again, a la USPS following the Festina scandal.

  21. Just when you think the asshats at the UCI just MIGHT be getting a clue, they toss out a screwball statement blaming the cycling FANS! Right up there with the one Mr. Mars gave to Dick Pound(?) about how they could clean up cycling if the fans would accept a TdF run at an average speed of 25 kph or something…but since they (how he knows this is hard to understand) demand a race run at 40+ kph, cheating must be tolerated as in integral part. It’s all the fans fault!?
    A huge sponsor like Rabobank in a cycling-mad country pulling the plug should tell them something, even if GIANT may take over as Cannondale is doing in Italy. At this rate the only sponsors left will be those from the pre-Magni (RIP Fiorenzo) days – bike companies. Who else would put money into involvement in a “sport” that’s well on its way to sinking to the level of pro wrestling in the credibility arena?

  22. Was shocked when I read the news this morning! Then again, USADA warned that when their report was released it would be damning, that it would likely have a considerable impact!

    Here in Belgium I have been faced over the past year or so with so many people becoming nonchalant about the sport due to the doping cases with Contador, the Italian kicked out by Vacansoleil last year, et al. Was irritating to constantly hear people referring to every outstanding performance as “probably doping”! This caused me to take a look at my connection to the sport which I love, and admittedly I am no longer so enamoured by the performances in the pro peloton, not as much as I used to be.

    In The Laws of Physics there is a dynamic about how if something is not working according how it should most effectively be working then there will be a timeframe in which it can ‘sort’ itself out, or it will degrade, in other words, negatively spiral (downwards). Normally this negative spiral will continue until hitting rock bottom, after which it will start to positively spiral.

    Hopefully the Festina scandal was the start of the negative spiral and the sport is now hitting rock bottom! But after all the almost constant doping-related news I am also becoming nonchalant about the pro world!

    However, this will not stop me from loving the bike, and I will continue to race! The adrenalin will continue flow and ‘dope’ my brain into pushing me harder!

    In the meantime, they should take UCI management, Lance, Bruyneel and co. into the desert, and bury them with only their heads clear!!! I guess I’m not so nonchalant after all!!!

  23. I can’t help thinking that the Rabobank decision is a cop out. They could follow the example of Vaughters and Brailsford and become self policing but instead they have contributed to the mess by admitting that they cannot keep their own house in order. The teams have to play a part in this and must commit to testing their riders and creating a clean culture. It’s not impossible because we have already seen it happen in some teams. Rabobank could have contributed to the revolution but instead have decided to look backwards and despair. Perhaps they have too many skeletons in the closet but I would much rather that they had made a commitment to fund a clean team rather than take their money and run. I am glad that the truth has come out but there is really no point in beating ourselves up over what has happened in the past. Let’s move on and create a sport that we can all enjoy and believe in again.

    • That’s a little unfair.
      They do not have the licence, therefore no control. Different situation to both Brailsford and Vaughters. Parallel is Rupert Murdoch/Sky or Garmin.

      If they actually controlled the team a la BMC (Rihs) or last year LeOpard (Becca) you could legitimately make the comparison.

      Rabobank are not backing out of their commitment to lower level cycling, they were quite clear on specifically targeting the professional team and the UCI only in the statement. IMHO this is their way of contributing to the revolution. Change the management structure of the sport and see if they come back.

  24. It would be interesting to read something on the types of organisation that tend to sponsor cycling teams, and why. It struck me that quite a few are connected to government or quasi-government organisations – Colombia-Coldeportes, Andalucia, Topsport-Vlaanderen, Lotto, FDJ, Fundacion Euskadi – with other frequent sectors being banks and telecoms companies. I had a quick look at the teams in the 2000 Tour de France and the same seems to be true: the top 10 teams were:

    1 Kelme-Costa Blanca 278h 10′ 47″
    2 Festina +13′ 42″
    3 Banesto +18′ 21″
    4 Team Telekom +40′ 08″
    5 Lotto-Adecco +1h 11′ 50″
    6 Rabobank +1h 16′ 34″
    7 ONCE-Deutsche Bank +1h 36′ 14″
    8 US Postal +1h 46′ 04″
    9 Mapei-Quick Step +1h 50′ 17″
    10 Cofidis

    Is it just that these types of organisation have the most money, or is there something else that makes them willing sponsors?

  25. Every house has dirty, but most of them hide it under the carpet. In cycling, “we” put it up and say “look, we cleaned it. It hasn’t dirty anymore”, but next month we do it again, and again, and again, and ever have dirty places on our home, like every homes.

    On this route, cycling is unsustainable.

  26. The real losers in is the women’s team.

    There is far less doping in the women’s peloton. Not because they are all saints but because there isn’t the money. Not the money to pay for top level drugs and techniques and the ‘expert’ guidance required to beat the system, nor the money to attract anyone who doesn’t truly love cycling. The vast majority of the women’s peloton could earn more working a 30 hour week at the local supermarket. Far more!

    Yet Rabobank tar the women with the same brush as the ProTour men. Sure they say (as an after thought) that they will support Marianne but, as she has pointwed out on Twitter, if they want to support her they need to support the team – she can’t do it all by herself. (Though it being Marianne, she probably could.)

  27. There are two ways to deal with the UCI problem. Yes it is a problem. Cycling is “their” sport and they failed to protect it, repeatedly, and there are enough indications and innuendos that the UCI was complicit in the doping and cover-up “for the greater good”.

    1. Get IOC to strip UCI from their representative body status for the Olympics

    2. Commercial sponsors to sue UCI for damages due to UCI bringing (or allowing to bring) the sport into disrepute and thus severely diminishing the value of marketing activities, or even reducing the values of the brands involved.

    UCI or another governing/representative body for cycling should exist, I am just very annoyed that so many bad things happened to our sport that the UCI as it is now should not be allowed to continue.

  28. In their comments rabobank riders like Boom, Gesink and Renshaw all blame it on the sins of another era. For me that’s a bit to easy, why not speak out against all those riders and teammanagement that are continuing to endanger the sport by their behaviour today? If no one dares to question dodgy teammanagers like vinokourov, ekimov, holzcer, lefevre, savio, amadio etc. If no rider dares to question the behaviour and performance of fellow riders like pellizotti, scarponi, gasparotto, iglinsky, valverde, f schleck, barredo etc, than to me they sound very weak in their defense of what has just happened by only blaming the previous generation. And weak people are not the ones that we need to manage change, it will not happen without overcoming difficulties like breaking the omerta. In order to get real change of behaviour in the pro peleton it seems necessary that the truly committed riders start putting more pressure on their colleagues very soon. Hopefully the new information on the ferrari and fuentes cases will spark this in the coming days.

  29. I say INRING for UCI PRESIDENT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    First USADA’S hunt, than Hamilton’s book, both have left a bad taste, Spider-Tech is on hold and now Rabobank. Least with Rabobank doing the grass routes sponsorship they are still involved.
    Much like the worlds economy, not looking forward to the future of cycling
    It seems now the only highlight in cycling is INRING and the great daily posts.

  30. I wonder what the trickle down effect will be on races Rabobank and other possibly-exiting-sponsors have supported, like the Tour of California. Don’t know how significant Rabo’s support was, but since they have a presence in Cali, I imagine if they also pull race sponsorship it will have an impact.

  31. “We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future”
    Bert Bruggink, Rabobank CFO and Director

    But we will continue to do our bank business with Wall Street grifters who belong in Gitmo.
    Yes, we know. It is not about the bike, is it, Bertie?

Comments are closed.