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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 July 2007, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Rasmussen 'broken' by Tour exit
Michael Rasmussen
Rasmussen had looked favourite to win the Tour before his dismissal
Michael Rasmussen protested his innocence as the crisis-hit Tour de France continued on Thursday after two traumatic days of scandal.

The Danish race leader was sacked and withdrawn from the Tour for lying to his Rabobank team about his whereabouts in the build-up to the event.

Rasmussen said that the withdrawal had left him "broken and destroyed".

Pre-race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov is also out after failing a blood doping test on Tuesday.

Vinokourov's whole Astana team pulled out after his exit while Bradley Wiggins' Cofidis team quit the race on Wednesday after their rider Cristian Moreni failed a test.

The decision regarding Rasmussen was quite right

Team CSC rider Fabian Cancellara

Rasmussen's withdrawal left stage 17 with no-one wearing the famous yellow jersey.

Dutch team Rabobank justified their action by saying Rasmussen had lied when he said he had been in Mexico rather than Italy for one of the four dope tests he failed to show up for in the past 18 months.

But Rasmussen questioned his team manager Theo de Rooy's decision, saying: "It's the work of a desperate man who is at the end of his nerves.

"My boss is mad. I wasn't in Italy, no way. That's the story of one man (former cyclist and now an Italian television presenter Davide Cassani) who thinks he saw me but there's not the slightest proof."

Heleen Crielaard, Rabobank's head of sponsorship, confirmed it was a team decision and had nothing to do with the sponsors.

"We didn't take him out because of doping suspicion, they took him out because he didn't act to the rules," she told BBC Five Live.

Erik Dekker, a member of Rabobank's management team, said that the Rasmussen incident had been a "disaster".

"The guys were riding for the yellow jersey," he told BBC Five Live. "On Wednesday it was pretty clear we were going to win the Tour de France.

606: COMMENT
BBC Sport's Phil Sheehan

"The guys were working for that and were really proud to be riding for Michael. They came back to the hotel and they heard it's over. This morning we woke up and everyone was hoping it was a dream."

Before the start of Thursday's 17th stage, a defiant Tour director Christian Prudhomme expressed his delight with Rasmussen's dismissal and insisted the race will not be cancelled.

"Rasmussen's exit is the best thing that can happen to the Tour. The race will start without him and the yellow jersey will be given out after the stage," he said.

"The race will go on for the rest of the riders and we believe it would be an insult to them to stop the race. We believe the general classification is much better now than it was."

Shell-shocked riders at the start of Thursday's stage expressed their support for the withdrawals of Rasmussen, Vinokourov and Moreni.

"The decision regarding Rasmussen was quite right," said Fabian Cancellara, who led the race in the first week. "The teams should all work the way we are now working, fighting against doping.

"The majority of us want a clean sport and each rider has to take responsibility.

"It reflects very badly on the tour when riders cheat and it is good for cycling if we treat riders strictly. I hope everybody else will get the message."

And Quickstep's Cedric Vasseur, winner of the 10th stage, added: "People were once saying that the tests were useless but now the cheats are being caught. It's good for cycling that we find out who these people are."

The French media reacted strongly to the latest news with the Liberation newspaper calling for the Tour to be stopped while L'Equipe said the blow was an opportunity for organisers to clean up the event.

The crisis of the last few days is the latest in a long line of scandals that have rocked the sport this year.

  • 24 May: Erik Zabel and Rolf Aldag admit to using banned blood booster EPO in the mid-1990s
  • 25 May: Bjarne Riis, who won the Tour in 1996, admits to using performance-enhancing drugs and is later struck off the list of winners
  • 15 June: Ivan Basso banned for two years for his role in a Spanish doping scandal
  • 7 July: Tour begins in London without a confirmation of the 2006 winner as Landis' hearing continues in Malibu
  • 18 July: German cycling federation reveals that Patrik Sinkewitz tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone before the race
  • 24 July: Vinokourov tests positive for blood doping after winning the stage 13 time-trial; Alessandro Petacchi cleared of any blame in regard to his failed doping test at the Giro d'Italia
  • 25 July: Moreni tests positive for testosterone; Rasmussen sacked by Rabobank and withdrawn from Tour

International cycling boss Pat McQuaid said teams must take more responsibility for the integrity of their riders in the wake of the crisis.

"The teams are the ones who have to control the riders," he told BBC Radio Five Live. "They need to guarantee the riders are clean and riding fairly. They are the ones that need to clean out the riders who are iffy."

McQuaid praised Rabobank for the way they have dealt with the Rasmussen situation, saying: "He was thrown out by his team because they received evidence he had lied to them. He told them he was in Mexico but he was seen in Italy at the same time.

Alexandre Vinokourov
Vinokourov faces a two-year ban if his B sample tests positive

"It was a straightforward lie and they threw him out which was a very responsible decision. Aspersions will be cast on him and they weren't prepared to accept that."

But McQuaid insisted the sport was doing all it could to beat the drugs cheats and was confident the battle could be won.

"We have brought in a completely new out-of-competition test control system this year and we are doing more of it," he said.

"We already test to the maximum, with blood tests in the morning and normal anti-doping in the afternoon.

"It's the older riders who have been beating the system but there's new testing all the time. The tests do work.

"Cycling is working very hard and we need to weed out the bad apples of the sport.

"I would hope next year we'll have a Tour de France with no positive tests. We've had two bad years and we can't afford another."



SEE ALSO
Where now for cycling?
26 Jul 07 |  Cycling
Stage 17 - as it happened
26 Jul 07 |  Cycling
Rasmussen powers to mountain win
25 Jul 07 |  Cycling
Tour hit by fresh doping failure
25 Jul 07 |  Cycling
Petacchi attends doping hearing
24 Jul 07 |  Cycling
Rider failed pre-Tour drugs test
18 Jul 07 |  Cycling
Rasmussen climbs into Tour lead
15 Jul 07 |  Cycling


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