Tour de France Leader Is Removed From Race

Michael Rasmussen of Denmark celebrates his stage win that appeared to put him on the verge of the Tour title. Instead, he was sent home.
Michael Rasmussen of Denmark celebrates his stage win that appeared to put him on the verge of the Tour title. Instead, he was sent home. (By Bryn Lennon -- Getty Images)
By Jerome Pugmire
Associated Press
Thursday, July 26, 2007

GOURETTE, France, July 25 -- Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen was removed from the race by his team after winning Wednesday's stage, the biggest blow yet in cycling's doping-tainted premier event.

"Michael Rasmussen has been sent home for violating [the team's] internal rules," Rabobank team spokesman Jacob Bergsma said by phone.

The expulsion, which Bergsma said was ordered by the Dutch team sponsor, was linked to "incorrect" information that Rasmussen gave the team's sports director regarding his whereabouts last month. Rasmussen, who also has been suspended from the team, 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, Tour historian Jean-Paul Brouchon said.

Rasmussen, who has led since July 15 and looked set to win the race, which will end on Sunday in Paris, could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

But hours before he was kicked out of the Tour, the 33-year-old said he was being victimized.

"Of course I'm clean," Rasmussen said after a doping test following his win in the 16th stage. "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 any more than that."

Although Rasmussen has not tested positive, race officials questioned why Rasmussen was allowed to take the start on July 7 in London.

"We cannot say that Rasmussen cheated, but his flippancy and his lies on his whereabouts had become unbearable," Tour director Christian Prudhomme said.

The leader of cycling's governing body applauded the decision.

"My immediate reaction is, why didn't they do this at the end of June, when they had the same information," said Pat McQuaid, president of the UCI. "The team decided to pull him out; that's their prerogative. I can only applaud that. It's a zero-tolerance policy, and it's a lesson for the future."

With Rasmussen out, Spanish rider Alberto Contador of the Discovery Channel team moved into the lead. Australian Cadel Evans, who rides for Predictor-Lotto, moved up to second, with U.S. rider Levi Leipheimer, also with Discovery, now third.

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