| LONDON, June 24
LONDON, June 24 U.S. consumer electronics group Belkin will sponsor the Blanco cycling team until 2015, rescuing the Tour de France entrant after its previous backer pulled out because of the sport's problems with doping.
The announcement on Monday is a timely boost for professional cycling ahead of the start of the Tour on June 29 as it tries to rebuild commercially following the Lance Armstrong scandal.
The Blanco team, which formerly raced as Rabobank, has been seeking a new title sponsor since the Dutch financial group announced its plans to withdraw last October, frustrated by cycling's damaging series of doping scandals.
The team will race under the Belkin name and in its new black, white and green colours when the Tour gets under way in Corsica on Saturday.
"With this being the 100th edition of the Tour de France, the timing couldn't be any better," Belkin CEO Chet Pipkin told Reuters.
Pipkin founded the company, which produces computing products including routers, in his parents' garage in California in 1983. It sees cycling sponsorship as a way to boost its brand around the globe.
Cycling teams are largely reliant on sponsorship for their income and the Dutch-based Blanco team faced extinction at the end of the year if it had not found a new backer.
Rabobank, which had been spending 15 million euros ($19.7 million) a year on cycling sponsorship, had already removed all of its branding and was only providing funding until the end of the current season.
"We can now move forward as a world tour team for at least 2-1/2 years," team general manager Richard Plugge told Reuters. "We are starting again. We want to be a top eight world tour team," added Plugge.
Dutch Blanco rider Bauke Mollema finished second in the Tour of Switzerland race earlier this month and will lead the Belkin challenge in the three-week French race, the most prestigious event in the cycling calendar.
Cycling offers sponsors good exposure at a relatively modest cost compared with sports like soccer and Formula One.
However, big global companies have been wary of getting involved with a sport that has made headlines for the wrong reasons after American Armstrong admitted to doping and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles last year.
Pipkin, who likes to cycle around Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border when on vacation, said he believed his new team was committed to competing fairly.
"We wouldn't want to be involved with this team if we didn't have a high degree of trust and confidence in the values of the team," he said.
($1 = 0.7612 euros) (Writing by Keith Weir, 44 20 7542 8022; Editing by Mark Potter)