HTC-Highroad to fold at end of season
HTC-Highroad, the team of top Tour de France sprinter Mark Cavendish, will fold at the end of the season after a deal with a potential new partner collapsed.
The US outfit have been cycling's most successful team in the last three years, with 47 wins for the men and 46 for the women in 2011.
Team manager Bob Stapleton said a phone call on Sunday dashed any hopes he had of keeping the team alive.
"We had seven different teams offering mergers and an agreement with a new partner looked to be in place," Stapleton said.
"But the deal collapsed Sunday night when they called me during my wife's 50th birthday party.
"We reached the conclusion that the best thing would be to release the managers, staff and athletes."
Without naming names, Stapleton said the arrival of big budget teams could have harmed cycling in some ways.
"The stakes of top teams have increased. More than three teams have budgets north of 20 million (dollars)," the American said.
"You have 'haves' and 'have-nots' and that's not an optimal situation for the sport.
"Our view was that if we couldn't be close enough on financial firepower, we couldn't consistently outperform with far less money.
"If we couldn't be in a leadership position in the sport, then we weren't going to be in a position to drive change and that was our fundamental mission coming in, and if we weren't going to succeed in that, then it was best to let people go and pursue their own interests."
But he denied that the rumours consistently linking Cavendish to British team Sky for 2012 had anything to do with the end of their sponsor search.
Briton Cavendish has racked up 20 Tour stage wins with HTC-Highroad, his team since he turned professional in 2007, including the green jersey for best sprinter in July's race.
"It was a chicken and egg situation. We are very proud of the success Mark has had and if we could have secured funding in a timely manner we would have had a lot fewer problems in general," Stapleton said.
"It (Cavendish's future) was not a defining factor in the search for a sponsor.
"On a personal level, I have a bitter-sweet feeling. I'm very proud of the team, the riders and the staff," he added.
"But I'm a little disappointed in the modest impact we've had on the long-term future of the sport."