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T-Mobile: Progress at the Crossroads?

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A mere ten months ago T-Mobile launched its comprehensive overhaul of its sinking ship of a team, and in the process foreshadowed a new model for fighting the cheats. I personally hailed it as a potential revolution, and a few other teams cherry-picked from the suite of measures T-Mobile planned to impose on its charges in the name of clean sport.

Now, one Tour de France later, the company is deciding whether to pull the plug. The source of the story is an interview with Christian Frommert, a VP with the parent company, who says their continued sponsorship will be determined in the next two weeks, thereabouts.

This is a story well worth following. First, it's an interesting look into the rather transparent deliberations of one of the sport's most prominent supporters. Second, it's very important -- the Stapleton model is still the most thoughtful approach to team-building in the anti-doping era. [At least until we see what Slipstream has to offer, and if we already know, my apologies for forgetting.]

Frommert, whose words can be assumed to reflect the company's thinking, says several interesting things. First, that the positive tests -- even on his own team -- seem to be an indication that the system is improving. What's more troubling, though, is the Rasmussen saga, where everyone wanted to duck the issue until Rabobank itself pulled the plug. As he says, "all procedures and systems had failed." More:

[A] more credible infrastructure must be constructed; a professional framework, with clear regulations, strict testing and tough sanctions directed by competent figures with the appropriate track record. The system must be strong enough to withstand the collateral damage of exposing cheats - this should not be a sign of collapse but of progress.

My first reaction to this subject was, why now? Things were surely worse a year ago, or at least no better, when T-Mobile decided to double down on Cycling. How can they make that investment, broadcasting a commitment to a new era, and then say less than a year later that it might be time to pull the plug?

My second reaction was, it sounds like they're using the Tour as a benchmark to evaluate the progress that was made since they re-invested in the new model. That's either a poor way of doing things -- does someone really expect the revolution to be over by now? -- or maybe an indication that their investment last fall was more of a wait-and-see than a real commitment to a new era in the sport.

Deutsche Telekom can spend their money however they want, but if they are as committed to Cycling as they positioned themselves to be last year, then they won't overreact to the problems we just experienced in the Tour. As Frommert says, the positive tests are proof that something is working. Within the squad they have outed Sinking Joke and Serh(gu)iy G(h)onchar. Are there still problems in the sport? Obviously, and maybe Deutsche Telekom are simply pessimistic that a solution will ever be found. But the just-completed Tour tells us little we didn't already know, and little about where this is all headed.