HILVERSUM, THE NETHERLANDS (OCTOBER 18, 2012) (REUTERS) - Dutch bank Rabobank ended its multi-million euro backing of professional cycling on Friday (October 19) a decision which has been described as 'a black day' for the sport by the Royal Dutch Cycling Union (KNWU) General Director Huib Kloosterhuis.Rabobank is the latest spon or scared away by a doping scandal that has engulfed seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
The bank is the biggest backer of the high profile Dutch Rabobank team, with total sponsorship worth 15 million euros ($20 million) a year in a cycling-mad nation with as many bikes as people.
The decision shows the damage being done to cycling after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency(USADA) said Armstrong had taken part in and organised a sophisticated doping scheme on his way to success.
"Well of course this is a big black day for the Dutch cycling environment as we see a lot of money is brought to the environment of the cycling," Kloosterhuis told Reuters Television. "And this is a black day for us and the whole cycling in the Netherlands and I think international as well."
Sportswear company Nike and brewing group Anheuser-Busch dropped their sponsorship of Armstrong this week, and the sport must show it can tackle doping effectively to prevent more of its backers from quitting.
The Rabobank decision was criticised by British cyclist David Millar, an ex-doper turned anti-doping campaigner, who tweeted: "Dear Rabobank, you were part of the problem. How dare you walk away from your young clean guys who are part of the solution. Sickening."
Rabobank said it would do "everything we can to support her 2016 Olympic ambitions" and this was supported by Kloosterhuis.
"What we have discussed with the Rabobank already is that Marianne Vos is also with her team going in the next year phase where they have to find a new sponsor. If this will not be the case and they won't find a sponsor, the KNWU will pull that team back to ourselves," said Kloosterhuis. "The same as we do with the continentals at this moment.
"And we will have the support of the Rabobank, they already said, to continue their sponsorship with that team together with the KNWU towards Rio (2016 Olympics) so I don't foresee a problem but at this moment we say well let's see if Marianne Vos, the same as the pro team, can find its own sponsor because we are not a commercial unit of course."
Kloosterhuis said it would not be too difficult to find a new sponsor willing to pay 15 million euros but admitted it would be hard to find one which believes the sport will clean up its act.
"If you look at what Rabo does for the Dutch cycling in the international field I think to find a sponsor for 15 million euros internationally will not be a big issue because if you see what you get back for 15 million euros on time on television etcetera it's not a lot of money," Kloosterhuis added. "But of course 15 million is a lot of money so it will be difficult and on the other hand it will be difficult to see to find somebody who believes that the sport will be a clean sport."
In a statement the team said: "We've been cycling for 17 years now with the nameRabobank proudly on our shirts, and it hurts that going forward we'll have to do without that name."
($1 = 0.7638 euros)