Ever since I can remember cycling, Rabobank have sponsored a cycling team. They’ve been doing it since 1996, when I was but 5 years old, and so have been one of the great constants in my cycling life – there has always been a team in orange, the Dutch team, who were there as other teams collapsed, folded or changed sponsors – you could always count on the Rabobank boys, fronted by the top Dutch riders and Oscar Freire, to be up there somewhere, usually on their beautiful Colnago steeds before the switch to Giant. They were also especially poignant because my family hails from the Netherlands, the land of the bicycle, and Rabobank were always the Dutch Team. Unfortunately, the exit of the sponsor, which is all that is happening as the team will follow on a la ‘High Road’ in 2008 as a white label quad, rather then the team collapse as seemingly reported, is a real blow to cycling, bigger in reality then the current doping scandal rocking the headlines. Imagine if Arsenal suddenly stopped playing and that all their players maybe needed to look elsewhere for a team at the end of the year. It would be bedlam. Like when T-Mobile left in 2007, It is truly sad that the orange kit won’t be seen again.
That said, it is a rather odd move by Rabobank, who claim the move to cease sponsorship from 31st December 2012 was based upon the ‘Reasoned Decision’ of the USADA, with the lender claiming ‘We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport.’ This is odd given that only a day before, Rabobank were distancing themselves from Carlos Barredo as it was announced he would be being investigated for his blood passport – surely a move to pursue a ‘clean and fair sport?’
It must be mentioned however that Rabobank haven’t exactly had the best record for doping and ‘clean and fair sport’ for a while. Recent reports have claimed the team ‘tolerated’ doping from 1996, when Rabobank came onboard, until 2007, the year that Michael Rasmussen was on the brink of taking the yellow jersey only for the Rabobank-inscribed malliot jaune to be pulled from the race, having lied about his whereabouts, although he now claims he did so because he was hiding an affair. The Humanplasma affair, of which little seems to have come around, also tied up many Rabobank riders. Rasmussen, Michael Boogerd and Thomas Dekker where name dropped, as where Pieter Weening, Joost Posthuma and Denis Menchov. Menchov, the second most successful current Grand Tour rider after Contador, has been subject to various doping accusations, and was a 9 on L’Equipe’s ‘suspicion index,’ whilst Thomas Dekker would be the rider to test positive for EPO on Rabobank, an odd result that was announced just before the 2009 Tour, but then turned out to have been carried out in December 2007. Of course, Garmin where happy to take up another doper to join their merry band of cheats when his suspension ran out, but Rabobank held firm despite all these scandals, which is the point really – why now? Why, after Rasmussen, Gert Leinders, Humanplasma, Dekker, Leipheimer, Barredo et all, did they decide to go now?
The answer looks more like a case of deflection – they probably are effected by all this, and the USADA case has proved a welcome deflection strategy, as in they can blame that when they really mean the emerging historical problems of the team, instead of bringing up all those old issues again, which is a bit hypocritical given their own alleged toleration of doping. It’s sad that they abandon everything instead of helping, but at least they will, a la T-Mobile, leave funds for the team to continue for a year. It’s always been rumored that Rabo riders were a bit lazy, as they had found a comfy niche at the in effect Dutch National Team, and so they could do with a year to prove themselves to other teams of the current structure doesnt continue past 2013.
Brief History of Rabobank
The team behind Rabobank have existed since 1984, although some would argue from 1974 given that the majority of the stucture and riders was carried over from the dying TI-Raleigh Squad in 1983. Named Kwantum Hallen-Decosol-Yoko until 1986, the team was led by Jan Raas and Walter Godefroot, and won what would be the teams Home race of Amstel Gold through Jaccques Hanegraaf, as well as stage of the Tour de France with Raas. 1980 Tour Winner Zoetemelk also gave the team the rainbow jersey before they became Superconfex-Yoko from ’87-’89, where he won Amstel Gold to end his career. Buckler-Colnago-Decca were the sponsors for the less successful 1990-92 seasons, which saw team stalwart Erik Dekker join, before Wordperfect-Colnago-Decca came in for 1993-1994 and Novell Software-Decca for 1995, who had hoped the signing of Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, who had won the green jersey despite catapulting himself into the Champs Elysees barriers they year before, would revitalise the team. It didn’t, so in came Rabobank in 1996.
Rabobank became characterised by various traits – they dominated the Dutch National championships, and they had various team stalwarts who went out their careers at the squad – Erik Dekker and Michael Boogerd being the most obvious, with the Boogie Man’s grin becoming particularly famous. They also gave a young Robbie McEwen his first stage win at the Tour de France, although he claims his time at the team was appaling. The Amstel Gold race also became the place for Rabobank to show themselves, and they occasionally wore special jerseys in the race for the Ride for the Roses charity. In 2005, Menchov won they the Vuelta, and repeated the feat in 2007 before taking the Centenary Giro in 2009. This made up in some respects for kicking out Michael Rasmussen in 2007.
Oscar Freire also became a team rallying point, always popping up with impressive victories in Milan San Remo and the like to impress his paymasters, although he left unhappy at the end of 2011 for Katusha in a sign of the beginning of the end. Rabobank had begun looking for young Dutch talent anyway, and had come up with Robert Gesink, the crash prone climbing machine who received a 5 year contract at just 20 years of age, Lars Boom, who picked up world cyclo-cross titles, Bauke Mollema, who looked for a year to be upstaging Gesink before settling into a similar pattern, as well as even younger prospects like Wilco Keldermann and Steven Kruijswijk.
Rabobank have however still left us with some marvelous memories, which I’ve punctuated this piece with in image form. Let’s try to remember them for that, rather then the bad times – cycling is getting way too depressed and cynical at the moment anyway. I wrote a piece about the ‘death’ of Dutch Cycling earlier in the year – I sincerely hope this prediction isn’t forced any nearer to fruition by Rabobank’s departure.