Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tour De France: Leader Rasmussen is Out [J. Mark English]

Can they race afford any more turmoil? They are like the NBA, NFL, and MLB rolled into one. Drugs, scandal, the whole thing. Here is more from Edward Wyatt of the New York Times:

Chaos and disgrace enveloped the Tour de France early Thursday after the event’s overall leader, Michael Rasmussen, was removed from the race by his Rabobank team for lying about where he was training.

The announcement came hours after Rasmussen, who had already been riding under suspicion of doping, won the 16th stage Wednesday and appeared to be in position to claim the championship of cycling’s most prestigious event on Sunday in Paris. The news came shortly after the withdrawal of a second team in two days from the Tour amid the ever-widening doping scandal that has rocked the sport since last year’s champion, Floyd Landis, was found to have failed a drug test on his way to the title.

This year’s Tour has lost at least two teams, the winners of four stages and the overall leader. But organizers have so far said the event would not be canceled. Doing so, said Patrice Clerc, the president of the company that organizes the Tour, would mean victory for the riders who violate the rules.

Rasmussen, a 33-year-old Danish rider, was awarded the race leader’s yellow jersey for nine consecutive days, and, with his second stage victory of this Tour, he extended his lead to more than three minutes over his closest competitor. Almost from the time he gained the lead, however, questions have dogged him about his training and about why he missed at least three drugs tests this year after antidoping officials could not locate him.

On Wednesday, members of seven teams staged a protest at the beginning of the stage in Orthez, refusing to ride out with the other teams for a few minutes to bring attention to what they said was their united effort to combat doping. They soon joined the race, a 136-mile stage to the top of the Col d’Aubisque in the Pyrenees.

With Rasmussen gone, the new overall leader will be Alberto Contador, a Spanish rider for the Discovery Channel team who has fought a fierce battle with Rasmussen in the Pyrenees over the last three stages. The Rabobank team spokesman, Jacob Bergsma, said the team would announce later Thursday morning if the remaining riders would complete the Tour.

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