ESPN.com is reporting that Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen has been yanked from the race. Rasmussen was sent home by his Rabobank team for violating team rules and the mandate allegedly came down from the team’s sponsor.
Rasmussen, who won today’s stage, and has been in Yellow since July 15th, has been dogged by stories the past few day that he skipped two mandatory drug tests. He called it “an administrative error” and had he missed a third test, he would have been suspended as if he had tested positive. The specter of this news has hung over the Tour since it was announced.
In the 104 year history of the Tour, only one other rider has been expelled while leading the race. Belgian rider Michel Pollentier was sent packing in 1978 for trying to avoid the mandatory drug test following his win on the legendary Alpe d’Huez. He was later caught with an intricate system designed to fool doping tests and was in possession of someone else’s urine.
With Rasmussen out, Alberto Contador of Spain now assumes the Yellow Jersey. He’ll hold a two minute lead over Cadel Evans of Australia going into a crucial individual time trial on Saturday. American Levi Leipheimer sits in third and is now in a great position for a podium finish. Barring any disasters, these three men are likely to stand on the podium in Paris, but in which order is yet to be determined.
This news is another blow to cycling’s premiere event. The Tour has been rocked with controversy this year, with a number of riders testing positive for various failed doping tests. Yesterday, one of the sport’s biggest stars, Alexandre Vinokourov, was tossed out, with his whole team resigning, for an illegal blood transfusion.
One thing is clear. Despite the fact that sport has taken strides to clean up it’s image and make it harder for riders to use performance enhancing substances, it obviously still has a very long way to go. At every turn, it seems someone else is failing a test, and the top riders all seem to be suspect. I enjoy cycling and have followed the tour for years. It’s just sad that such a great and compelling sport, has become a punchline.
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