Tour de France organisers on Saturday called for the resignation of International Cycling Union (UCI) bosses who they feel are to blame for the Michael Rasmussen controversy which has sullied the race.
“There’s only one solution (in such circumstances), and that’s resignation,” said Patrice Clerc, the president of the race’s parent company Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) ahead of the 19th and penultimate stage.
Clerc said there has been a “lack of clarity, transparency, competence, and most of all a lack of professionnalism” on the part of the higher echelons of cycling’s world ruling body.
The Tour will end on Sunday in Paris, but for most watchers the 94th edition will be remembered for being dominated by the skinny Danish climber who wore the emblematic yellow jersey for over a week before being thrown out. The Dutch Rabobank outfit ejected Rasmussen, and then sacked him the next day, after discovering he had lied to them over his whereabouts in June.
Up until then, Rasmussen’s whereabouts had preoccupied most of the world’s media – and caused a dipute between the already feuding Tour bosses and the UCI. It was revealed he had missed four random doping controls in the past 18 months, a fact the UCI and his Rabobank team were aware of but decided not to act upon because, in legal terms, he could not be sanctioned.
The affair was compounded by two positive doping cases involving Alexandre Vinkourov for blood doping and Cristian Moreni for testosterone, leading respectively to the ejection of the Astana and Cofidis teams.
But the Rasmussen case appears to have left the bitterest taste with the race organisers, who went as far as to claim that the UCI had deliberately tried to harm the Tour’s image. “There are two possibilites: either they (UCI) have been incompetent, or they have gone out of their way to damage (the Tour’s reputation),” added Tour de France director Christian Pruhomme.
“[The UCI] did not apply its own rule which says one rider who misses a drugs test before a Tour isexcluded automatically”
In May 2006 Prudhomme signed a three-way agreement with UCI president Pat McQuaid and Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere, who is also head of the professional teams association, outlining all three parties’ commitment to a scandal-free Tour.
Prudhomme feels that the UCI, in not releasing the information on Rasmussen’s missed tests, effectively broke that agreement.
“I’ve been betrayed,” said Prudhomme, who had earlier voiced his concerns in an interview with German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
“One should not make the Tour de France organisers responsible for everything,” said Prudhomme. “Just like in every sport, there is an international organisation in cycling, but despite all the respect it warrants, it does nothing.
“The UCI never really wanted this Tour to be clean, but next year, there could potentially be a clean Tour,” he added.
When asked: “So you will break with UCI and it’s President Pat MacQuaid next year?”, the reply was clear.
“Yes, that is what we will do next year, we shall work with the World Anti-Doping Agency and the French agency against doping, hand-in-hand.
“How can anyone still believe in the UCI?
“For example, it did not apply its own rule which says one rider who misses a drugs test before a Tour is excluded automatically,” said Prudhomme who admitted there will always potentially be riders in a Tour who fail a drugs test, like Ukrainian Alexander Vinokourov, who was caught this year using a blood booster.
But he insisted the unique case of this year’s former Tour leader Michael Rasmussen – sacked for repeatedly lying about a missed drugs test – should never be allowed to happen again.
“Of course, a case like that of Vinokourov can – unfortunately – happen again, but a case like Michael Rasmussen? Never. We will not work with the UCI anymore, there will be special rules for next year’s Tour,” he concluded.
Rasmussen banned from race in Denmark
Embattled Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen was told Saturday that he would not be welcome at the start line of one of his country’s post-Tour criteriums.
Rasmussen, kicked out of the Tour de France when leading the race this week in a row over missed drugs tests, had intended to emulate cycling great Lance Armstrong by competing on the Decoplant Grand Prix which starts on Monday.
But race director Jesper Tikioeb told Saturday’s Berlingske Tidende newspaper: “We’ve decided that Michael Rasmussen’s participation in the Decoplant Grand Prix would constitute a handicap for the competition. We want to affirm our commitment for a clean sport.”
Rasmussen was ousted from the Tour de France after taking Wednesday’s 16th stage, a win which he felt had left him in an unassailable position at the head of the overall standings. He was later sacked by his team, Rabobank, who claimed he had lied to them about his whereabouts in June when he missed one of four random drug tests.
Rasmussen, who says he’s consulted his lawyer over his sacking, has vowed to continue his cycling career.
© AFP 2007