Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen spent another day in the yellow jersey on Friday, but the way things are going the Danish climber will be happy to relinquish that position.
After a relatively uneventful 12th stage won by Belgian Tom Boonen, Rasmussen continued to brush off doping claims by claiming he had made an "administrative error" after missing two random doping controls. Rasmussen, who rides for the Dutch Rabobank team, missed visits by International Cycling Union (UCI) officials on March 24, 2006 and June 28, 2007.
It has now emerged that Rasmussen, who until December was licensed to the cycling federation of Mexico - the native country of his wife - had also been given two warnings by Anti-Doping Denmark after missing two doping tests run by the Danish Cycling Union (DCU) this year.
Under World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) rules missing three doping controls by any one body amounts to a doping violation.
UCI president Pat McQuaid confirmed earlier to AFP: "We issued him a warning that if he missed another test it would amount to a doping violation. But there's no evidence of doping."
After realising he has missed four tests in total, the DCU decided to axe Rasmussen from their national squad for September's world championships and next year's Olympic Games. DCU chief Jesper Worre confirmed Friday that Rasmussen had also been warned twice after missing two of their random anti-doping controls.
"If you add the number of warnings Michael Rasmussen has received, it comes to four," said Worre. "They are from two different bodies - Anti Doping Denmark, and the UCI - so they do not automatically lead to a doping violation."
Rasmussen, 33, maintains that all he was guilty of was forgetting to tell officials of his whereabouts.
"I do admit I committed an administrative error," he said. "I can confirm I have no positive doping tests and I have been tested out of competition in June and those tests were negative."
Tour director Christian Prudhomme meanwhile is angry at what he regarded as an attempt to discredit the Tour. "If the Danish federation knew of this at the end of June, why did they not tell us at the start of July, or at least before the start of the Tour?" said Prudhomme. "Why are they suddenly deciding that Rasmussen can't take part in the world championships and the Olympics? What evidence do the UCI and the DCU have at their disposal, and why are we not privy to it?"
Both the DCU chief Worre and UCI chief McQuaid said that was not the case. "It is regrettable that this case popped up during the Tour, but we actually did inform the UCI before the Tour," said Worre. "We got no answer, and since then time has passed."
McQuaid added, "It was not brought out deliberately to discredit the Tour. It (the information) was brought out by the Danish federation, who used their own rules to decide whether or not he's going to be picked for the world championships or Olympic Games."
McQuaid said he received an angry phonecall from Prudhomme on Thursday, accusing the UCI of "trying to kill the Tour de France".
"He [Prudhomme] was ranting and raving, wouldn't allow me to speak, or intercept. He told me, 'wait until I've finished talking. What are you trying to do, kill the Tour de France? You knew about this news for the past month and you've decided to release it now'.
"I just couldn't get a word in edgeways, so I said 'look, talk to me when you've calmed down', and I put the phone down."
McQuaid has now demanded an apology from the Tour director.
Rasmussen allowed to continue
A lack of proof means that the company which runs the Tour de France has to give Rasmussen the benefit of the doubt.
Patrice Clerc, the president of the race's parent company Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) said that until they have proof, the Tour has no power to act. But he also hit out at the timing of the news.
"Rasmussen is someone who has been closely watched (by the authorities), but as things currently stand he is innocent," Clerc said. "He was tested randomly on June 30 at his national championships. Then he was tested when his team carried out a control on July 3. His blood was then tested by the UCI on July 5, along with the rest of the peloton.
"Again, he underwent a random blood test on July 17 when he won his stage in Tignes. He has also had urine samples tested on July 15, 17, 18 and 19. How do you expect us to act upon a rumour of suspicion? I believe we have to seriously doubt the motives of these revelations, and why they have been made on July 19 when the news of his errors has been known for so long."
Rasmussen also received a boost of support from Boonen, who said it was not so easy to get to grips with the procedures of letting the authorities know where you are every single day.
"This came out five weeks ago, so why say it now?" said the Belgian. "The UCI has changed the system so many times, and sometimes without telling us."
© AFP 2007