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CycleSport on the Death of Disco

Unbeknownst to many, I don't actually get to read everything written in the English language on the sport of Cycling, so if I missed this in other outlets, just ignore this post (yet again) and move along...

But I want to give some props to Lionel Birnie & co. at Cycle Sport for a rather thorough and cogent analysis in this month's mag of why the Discovery Channel/Tailwind folks really decided to pull up the stakes and get on with B-school or starting blogs or whatever "pursuing other interests" is supposed to mean. As I understood it, the official position was that they could have continued but for unexplained reasons decided not to. Obviously nobody believed that, and the real reasons were assumed to be lack of sponsors or something about doping.

The real truth now seems like a complexity of all of the above, and goes something like this:

  • Cycling is a mess right now, so sponsors are already a tad nervous about investing in the sport.
  • Discovery/USPS have been the subject of rampant suspicion but no real black eyes. Still, they were very successful at a time when everyone else was doping, so you can draw your own conclusions.
  • ASO were not fond of the Disco juggernaut and have gone out of their way in the last couple years to paint Lance in an unfavorable light. They were also fully prepared to block the team from trotting out Ivan Basso this July.
  • The Basso signing is roundly considered the team's downfall, or the single biggest impetus for it. From that moment on, Discovery were on bad terms with the entire rest of the peloton and branded themselves as old-style, win-at-all-costs pariahs.
  • Given all of this, plus ASO's new-found freedom from the Pro Tour structure, they were by no means guaranteed an invite to the 2008 Tour de France. The idea of excluding Contador's team is outrageous, but not beyond ASO.
  • All of this taken together -- bad image, murky prospects, huge expenses -- means that they couldn't find a sponsor.

There's an interview with Sean Yates where he admits as much, as well as a clip of Bruyneel saying the same thing to a Belgian paper, despite the official position that sponsors were waiting in the wings. But even still, there's room for elaboration: they couldn't find a sponsor before the date in August where the Tailwind guys got fed up with/exhausted from all the bullshit (in their eyes), so they gave up.

Part of the disconnect seems to be that Discovery feel unfairly singled out... and in Cycling, singling out anyone from the last decade is kind of silly. That said, one cannot understate the fallout from the Basso affair: Bruyneel supposedly spoke loudly for Basso's exclusion from the 2006 Tour based on the Operacion Puerto link... but then, at the earliest opportunity, signed him on as their grand tour captain. Discovery argue that there's no sin in trying to win, but such rank opportunism turned out to be really bad for business in the end. More than the hypocrisy, Discovery broke ranks with teams trying to send a very different message at that time... this may actually be what hurt their fellow teams and riders most of all.

Anyway, it's all a good read and I tip my cap to them for good, canny journalism. Sure, the rest of the issue is a long, ponderous valentine to all the Brits they've loved before [CS (hearts) David, Wiggy, Mark and the Boyyyzz!!XOXO], but then filling those pages in September isn't always easy.