Tour leader Michael Rasmussen today urged fans and journalists to "trust him" as he bids to erase the memory of fellow Dane Bjarne Riis's recent admission that he doped his way to the yellow jersey in 1996.
Predictably, Rasmussen fielded some tough questions as he faced that press in his Rabobank team hotel on the first Tour rest day in Tignes. One Danish journalists put it to the two-time King of the Mountains that the Tour is impossible on "cornflakes and pasta". Rasmussen retorted: "It would be a long press conference if I told you everything I do to prepare. Unfortunately, there's a lot of suspicion in cycling at the moment, but you just have to believe me. I'd say that the motivation I get from wearing the yellow jersey feels like doping".
Rasmussen was also asked to comment on recent speculation in the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten that he is one of the "Men in Black" identified in June by Annie Gripper, the UCI doping official. Gripper talked about riders "training in strange places in funny kit" who the UCI deemed suspicious and were being targeted for repeat dope tests. Jyllandsposten immediately linked the comments with Rasmussen's pre-Tour training binges in Mexico, where his wife Cariza was born.
"I find it strange that the UCI made that confidential information public," the Dane said of Gripper's comments. "The only 'Men in Black' I know are Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones."
"I do train in neutral kit, to protect my privacy," Rasmussen said. "When I train, not everyone respects my privacy. They drive alongside me, they force me to stop to sign autographs and sometimes they follow me home.
"As for training in Mexico, I've always had success with spending time at altitude," he said. "Before the 1994 world mountain bike championships in Vail, I trained at altitude with the Danish team and we went on to dominate that event. I also won the mountain bike Tour of Spain straight afterwards."
Visibly more at ease talking about the race he current leads by 43 seconds from Linus Gerdemann, Rasmussen seemed undaunted by the prospect of the two long time trials still to come in the Tour. "Lance Armstrong once said that to win the Tour, you need to do one good mountain stage and two good time trials," Rasmussen said. "I'm not too good in time trials so I have to do two good mountain stages. I think I can keep the jersey through the Albi time trial [stage 13], then look to increase my lead in the Pyrenees. I'm not a time trial specialist but there are no Armstrongs or Ullrichs in this Tour. Also, I proved yesterday that I'm not getting any slower in the mountains".
Rasmussen revealed that he had given the yellow jersey he received on the podium yesterday, the first of his career, to Kai Reus, the young Rabobank rider currently being kept in a coma after a crash near Grenoble last week. Reus fell on the descent off the Col d'Iseran on Thursday and suffered a brain hemorrhage. "It's a very difficult situation for us," Rasmussen said. "Kai is in our hearts and minds".