Just when you thought the Tour couldn't get any weirder, Michael Rasmussen has been asked by his Rabobank team to leave the race and the wearer of the yellow jersey has departed. The request comes after revelations that the Danish rider holds a Mexican racing license and hasn't had an out-of-competition drug test in two years. Because, this year, Rasmussen is a member of the Danish national team he also comes under their scrutiny and has missed at least two out-of-competition tests requested by the Danish national cycling federation.
Rabobank team officials deny that the Tour organizers put any pressure on them to expel Rasmussen, but on Tuesday, the Tour bosses said, "Michael Rasmussen should not have started the Tour. We should have refused him entry into the Tour." It is clear from the expulsion of both the Astana and Cofidis teams in the wake of positive tests by riders from those squads that the Tour organizers are taking a very strong stand on doping, a policy which can best be described as "zero tolerance".
Frankly, I am stunned. It is hard for me to believe that the Rabobank team decided, on their own accord, to throw away an almost certain Tour victory. In the short term this is a disaster for the team and its sponsors, most notably the Dutch bank Rabobank. However, in the long term, given the comments made to me by Tour boss Christian Prudhomme about running the Tour next year under the Tour's rules, the team is risking a possible non-participation in next year's race, and future Tours for that matter, if it doesn't deal with this situation quickly and effectively.
Let's face facts: For most professional cycling teams, the Tour is far and away the most important race on the cycling calendar and in most sponsor's eyes; it is critical for justifying the huge budgets of $8,000 to 15,000,000 a year for a top-flight professional cycling team. So, it would appear that Rabobank was caught between a rock and a hard place and decided to look to the long term rather than the short term.
However, the other side of the whole doping saga of the Tour, which really should be the subject of another blog, is the rider's rights. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code says that a rider is positive only after both their A and B samples have tested positive. In both the cases of Vinokourov and Cofidis rider Cristian Moreni, whose positive test for testosterone was announced on Wednesday, the B sample testing has yet to be conducted. What if, for example, Vino's B sample test comes back negative. Vino's courageous performance and two stage wins, plus the opportunity for his Astana team to shine have been unjustly taken away.
I am all for fighting doping with as much energy and resources as possible, but just like our Bill of Rights, the organizers of cycling must not deny the athletes their rights. The sport needs to win the fight against doping. I am just hoping that a "ends justifies the means" attitude does not descend upon the sport. If that happens we may win the battle, but lose the war.
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