Race leader Rasmussen removed from race

Gourette, July 26:

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

“Rasmussen has been sent home for violating (the team’s) internal rules,” Rabobank spokesman Jacob Bergsma said. The team also suspended him. 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.

Rasmussen missed random drug tests on 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 104-year-old Tour has the race leader been expelled. In 1978, Belgian Michel Pollentier, trying to evade doping controls after winning a stage at the Alpe d’Huez, was caught with an intricate tube-and-container system that contained urine that was not his, said Tour historian Jean-Paul Brouchon.

There was no immediate reaction from Rasmussen, who has led since July 15 and looked set to win the race which ends on Sunday. Hours before he was removed from the Tour, the 33-year-old Dane said he was being victimised.

With Rasmussen out, Spanish Alberto Contador of the Discovery Channel moves into the lead. “It’s in no way a celebration on our end. It’s the third piece of bad news,” said Discovery Channel spokesman PJ Rabice. “It reflects badly on our sport.”