What Happened To The Phonak Cycling Team?
Sponsored by a company which manufactured hearing aids, Phonak were a relatively short-lived but quite significant cycling team. They were in operation from 2000 until 2006 and featured major riders such as Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, both of whom had previously made their names riding in support of Lance Armstrong during his early Tour de France wins. The recent Giro d’Italia winner, Ryder Hesjedal, was also a team member when it folded.
The main reason why the team was disbanded is a common one in cycling and can be summed up in a single word: doping. In the early days, the team was built around Tyler Hamilton’s Tour de France bids, but he tested positive for blood doping in 2004 and served a two-year ban before again being implicated in the now-infamous Operation Puerto drug scandal.
However, more significant in terms of the team’s collapse was the case of Floyd Landis. During the 2006 Tour de France, while riding for Phonak, Landis put in an incredible performance on stage 17, finishing five minutes and 42 seconds ahead of Carlos Sastre in second place. The 120km solo effort moved him into third place and put him back in contention overall. Following the stage 19 time trial, Landis took the lead and ultimately won the Tour.
However, just seven days after that stage 17 win, Phonak revealed that a test on a urine sample taken after the win had revealed the presence of synthetic testosterone. A couple of weeks later and the B test confirmed the results. Landis was dismissed by the team and he was stripped of his Tour de France win.
Fans tend to focus on the sporting impact of doping, but this case reveals another unwanted effect. Cycling’s reputation at this time was at rock bottom and it was a struggle to find sponsors. After all, what company wants to be associated with cheats? As a respectable hearing aid firm, Phonak had little to gain from continuing to sponsor a cycling team who were in disgrace and in fact had something of a battle on their hands to rebuild their reputation after what had already happened.
For his part, Tyler Hamilton returned to cycling after his ban, but then again failed a drugs test. Floyd Landis contested the allegations against him for four years before admitting continual doping. This admission also featured allegations against Lance Armstrong, the most successful Tour de France rider of all time. Both he and Hamilton have now been asked to give evidence against Armstrong after the United States Anti-Doping Agency pressed charges in June 2012.
Harriette Spiel writes on behalf of Hearing Aids At Trade Ltd