Leader Rasmussen Removed From Race
Wednesday, July 25, 2007; 5:47 PM
GOURETTE, France -- One of its biggest stars is already gone, and now so is the leader of the Tour de France.
Michael Rasmussen was removed from the race by his Rabobank team after winning Wednesday's stage, a day after Alexandre Vinokourov and his team withdrew when the star cyclist tested positive for a banned blood transfusion.
"Michael Rasmussen has been sent home for violating (the team's) internal rules," Rabobank spokesman Jacob Bergsma told The Associated Press by phone.
The expulsion, which Bergsma said was ordered by the Dutch team's sponsor, was linked to "incorrect" information that Rasmussen gave to the team's sports director over his whereabouts last month. The Danish cyclist missed random drug tests May 8 and June 28, saying he was in Mexico. But a former rider, Davide Cassani, told Denmark's Danmarks Radio on Wednesday that he had seen Rasmussen in Italy in mid-June.
Only once before in the history of the 104-year-old Tour has the race leader been expelled. In 1978, Belgian rider Michel Pollentier, trying to evade doping controls after winning a stage at the Alpe d'Huez in the Alps, was caught with an intricate tube-and-container system that contained urine that was not his, said Tour historian Jean-Paul Brouchon.
Rasmussen, who has led since July 15 and looked set to win the race which ends on Sunday in Paris, could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
But just hours before he was kicked out of the Tour, the 33-year-old told the AP he was being victimized.
"Of course I'm clean," Rasmussen said, after a doping test following Wednesday's stage win. "Like I said, I've been tested 17 times now in less than two weeks. Both the peloton and the public, they're just taking their frustration out on me now. I mean, all I can say is that by now I had my test number 17 on this Tour, and all of those have come back negative. I don't feel I can do anymore than that."
Although Rasmussen has not tested positive, some fellow cyclists had openly voiced their skepticism about him.
Fans booed Rasmussen at the start of Wednesday's stage, and mostly French teams staged a protest to express disgust at the doping scandals that have left cycling's credibility in tatters. As the starter's flag came down, dozens of protesting riders stood still as Rasmussen, ace sprinter Tom Boonen and several others began riding away.
Some riders were forced to lift up their bicycles to get around their protesting colleagues, who eventually rejoined the race after causing a 13-minute delay. But the message was sent.
"We're fed up," AG2R rider Ludovic Turpin of France told Eurosport television.