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Tour de France News for July 26, 2007

Edited by Sue George & Laura Weislo with assistance from Ben Abrahams

Rabobank explains Rasmussen sacking

Rabobank communication director Jacob Bergsma
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In a statement released late on Wednesday evening, team sponsor Rabobank explained its reasons for the removal of Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen and his subsequent dismissal by team management. Following immense media scrutiny in recent days, the bank confirmed that Rasmussen had indeed lied to the UCI about his whereabouts in June, training in Italy rather than in Mexico as he originally stated.

According to hln.be, former professional Davide Cassani, now a commentator for Italian TV station RAI, made a statement to Danish TV on Wednesday in which he claimed to have seen the Rabobank leader training in the Italian Dolomites on June 13 and 14. Rasmussen had previously declared that he was in Mexico from June 4 - 26. "When Rasmussen was confronted with this information he confirmed to [team manager] Theo de Rooy he was at that moment in Italy," said Rabobank press officer Jacob Bergsma. "That was the reason De Rooy decided to get him out of the Tour and the team."

The bank said that its board members supported the decision to dismiss Rasmussen, but insisted it did not intend to withdraw sponsorship funds. The team itself is not leaving the Tour de France, with de Rooy allowing the riders to decide whether they wish to start Stage 17 on Thursday morning.

Centre of attention: The world's media gathered at the Mercure Hotel
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"What happened leaves me speechless. I am lost for words. A nightmare," said Rabobank board member Piet van Schijndel.

Reacting to Rasmussen's departure from the race, Tour director Christian Prudhomme said to AP: "We cannot say that Rasmussen cheated, but his flippancy and his lies on his whereabouts had become unbearable."

UCI president Pat McQuaid questioned why Rabobank hadn't removed Rasmussen before the Tour began. "My immediate reaction is, why didn't they do this at the end of June, when they had the same information," McQuaid told AP. "The team decided to pull him out - that's their prerogative. I can only applaud that. It's a zero-tolerance policy and it's a lesson for the future."

With Rasmussen out of the race, second placed Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) moves into the yellow jersey. "It's in no way a celebration on our end. It's the third piece of bad news," said Discovery Channel spokesman P.J. Rabice. "It reflects badly on our sport."

Moreni and Cofidis leave Tour after positive testosterone test

By Brecht Decaluwé in Ley

French gendarmes take Cristian Moreni
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One week after the doping news from T-Mobile's Patrick Sinkewitz and one day after the Vino-bomb, and the third doping story surfaced to ruin the Tour de France.

A rider that was currently in the Tour de France peloton had tested positive for testosterone, a banned substance that plays a role in enhancing recuperation. Once again, the news was leaked to the French newspaper L'Equipe, which published the news five hours before the rider was informed.

The rider's identity remained unknown for a few hours, but when the riders started rolling over the finish line on the legendary Col d'Aubisque, Cristian Moreni's name surfaced as the concerned rider-- a likeable Italian and a member of the French team Cofidis.

At 8 pm Wednesday, the president of the jury Didier Simon announced the news officially to the press in Ley. "Today, the UCI informed us that a rider tested positive after a doping test that was performed after the stage [11] to Montpellier."

Cristian Moreni (Cofidis) was arrested immediately
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Simon continued by saying the rider and his team were informed at 6:15 pm and explained that the rider had three hours to request the result of the B-sample. "I'm waiting for confirmation from Francis Van Londersele [directeur sportif Cofidis], but Moreni would have decided not to request it," the French official said to the gathered press.

Meanwhile the 34 year-old Moreni was picked up by the French gendarmerie after his finish in 41st place, 21 minutes back, on the Aubisque. He was escorted to be tested as part of the stage's "random" controls. A police car followed in the team car caravan up the Col d'Aubisque to meet Moreni post-stage, after his control was performed. He was taken away by the Gendarmerie (French police) for questioning.

ASO officials in the press room explained Cristian Moreni was officially out of the Tour de France.

A few moments later, the Cofidis team announced that the entire team would withdraw from the Tour de France upon request of their main sponsor as an ASO-spokesman confirmed to Cyclingnews. After the departure of team Cofidis - including Brit Bradley Wiggins - only 143 riders remained in the world's biggest cycling race.

Valverde: "It never seems to end"

By Gregor Brown in Ley

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
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"It never seems to end," said Alejandro Valverde, winner of last year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the ProTour, who did not know what to make of Alexander Vinokourov's positive post-race control. The Spaniard is in seventh place in the general classification after stage 16, 13'23" behind leader Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank). Valverde was disappointed by the test result of the "Great Champion"

"It is enough that it was a grand champion like Vino; it never seems to end," explained Valverde as he rode to the start line to begin stage 16 to Col d'Aubisque. "I don't know, I don't know," if the system functions or not.

Valverde was associated with Operación Puerto before the start of the Tour and can appreciate the pressure that now on Vinokourov, but he persisted that he will not lose sight of his goals. "Now I am in the Tour, and I am only thinking of the Tour; it is too hard to worry about problems outside of my control."

Soler emerges as Tour's bright spot

By Brecht Decaluwé in Ley

Mauricio Soler (Barloworld)
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One of the highlights of this year's Tour de France is the emergence of 24 year-old Juan Mauricio Soler. His second place in Milano-Torino behind future Giro d'Italia winner Danilo Di Luca already showed a touch of class, but in the Tour de France, Soler has shown he's nothing less than an emerging star by winning not only the mountainous stage 9 to Briançon, but also by earning the polka dot jersey for best climber in the Tour de France.

Soler was already wearing the jersey going into Wednesday's stage 16, but that was only because true KOM leader Michael Rasmussen could only wear one jersey at a time.

In the final mountains stage, Soler launched himself in a long breakaway supported by Carlos Sastre (CSC) who tried to go for the stage win on the Aubisque. During the breakaway, Soler managed to gather enough points to officially capture the polka dot jersey.

"I'm very happy with the jersey," Soler said. "This was a very difficult day for me, but it turned out to be fantastic. I could grab the jersey by taking the points during the first climbs. In the final climb towards the finish, I didn't react to the accelerations. I tried to gather my strength to capture the best possible result at the line."

Haselbacher "couldn't believe it"

When Astana's Rene Haselbacher returned from training on Tuesday, his roommate at the Sachsen Tour, Michael Schär, told him the news about Vinokourov's positive test for blood-doping.

"I lay on my bed in my cycling clothes for two hours and couldn't believe it. This is a human tragedy," he said on his website, haselbacher.com. "And when some of the media ... reports that Astana is riding the Sachsen Tour in 'business as usual', that is anything but the truth. Cycling is our job and this affects our future."

Responding to rumors that Team Astana would cease to exist, he said, "That's not so. I read it in the newspaper, too, but it was not confirmed by our team manager."

Klöden "disappointed"

Andreas Kloden (Astana)
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Andreas Klöden took his time to make a comment, "but as [you] can surely imagine, all hell broke loose yesterday after the announcement of Vino's positive A-sample. My team asked me not to say anything publicly until after the results of the B-sample have been announced. Naturally, I will do that, but I wanted to say how disappointed I am over the momentary situation."

Writing on his website andreaskloeden.de, the German rider noted that "Now I am sitting at home and have to watch the rest of the Tour on TV and I don't understand the world any more. With one blow, all of my work and preparations this season are for nothing."

Klöden had previously said he was satisfied with his performance which had left him sitting in fifth in the general classification, at least until his entire team withdrew after Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping Tuesday. Klöden had stated that his goal was to earn a place on the Tour podium.

BMC rethinks Astana sponsorship

However, the Associated Press reported that Swiss bicycle manufacturer BMC was re-evaluating its sponsorship of Astana following the news of Alexandre Vinokourov's positive test for blood doping.

"Our aim in sport sponsorship is to offer riders the best material and technical conditions for their success," said Andreas Georgiadis, CEO of International Sport Holding AG, which coordinates BMC's sponsorships. "But we don't want to have anything to do with doping."

Amadio backs current anti-doping system

By Gregor Brown in Ley

Liquigas general manager Roberto Amadio
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Roberto Amadio of Team Liquigas is convinced that the anti-doping controls in cycling are working.

"Definitely, I was shocked of yesterday's news," said the Liquigas team manager. "It is serious but the system is functioning. The anti-doping measures are working. If there are some riders that still don't understand this, then it is better they stop cycling and change occupations."

The Italian was referred to the news that Alexander Vinokourov tested positive for a blood transfusion and, subsequently, that Team Astana pulled the plug on its 2007 Tour participation.

"I asked [Astana's General Manager] Marc Biver that the team leave the Tour de France, and he accepted," said Patrice Clerc yesterday in response to the news that Vinokourov tested positive.

The Tour officials explained to the riders at the Grand Départ in London that it was a chance to restart with a clean state. "Still we have riders who think they can be wiser than the others and this is definitely not good," continued Amadio. "However, I believe that they have made 200 or more controls and they have found Sinkewitz and Vinokourov, so, out of the 180 riders here there are two and this is something to take into consideration.

"Without a doubt, the actions of Vinokourov are not good for our image but, I repeat, the controls function and they find the positive riders; this is important."

Amadio has long had the backing of a strong sponsor, natural gas company Liquigas. The management has spoken with the team's leader about the situation. "I have talked with the president [of Liquigas] and the administration, and, logically, they are worried and attentive to the problems. However, they entered cycling knowing of these situations and we have an internal structure that is strongly against doping. It is not good for cycling but they believe in cycling and a clean cycling, and they are backing me."

Prudhomme closed the Vinokourov press conference Tuesday with a note on Rasmussen. "Michael Rasmussen should not have started the Tour," stated Clerc. "Why? In a period of crisis, a champion has to be an example. In addition, his attitude, which we only know now, makes us believe that we should have refused his participation."

"He is within the rules," Amadio claimed, defending the participation of Michael Rasmussen in the Tour. "Based on the system of rules we have in place he is okay, ethically it is different. It is a decision of Rabobank but... We will see how it goes today [to the Col d'Aubisque - Rasmussen won Stage 16 with a time of 6:23:21. -ed.] and who is the winner on Sunday.

"If he wins, it is true that it would leave doubts, but I say that if the rules have put him in doubt then we need to change the rules," concluded Amadio. Less than 24 hours after Amadio's remarks, when Rabobank fired Rasmussen, pulling him from the Tour, no doubt remains.

Gianetti not impressed with motionless ProTour system

By Gregor Brown in Ley

Saunier Duval Team Manager Mauro Gianetti
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Saunier Duval Team Manager Mauro Gianetti was shocked to hear of the positive blood-doping test of Alexander Vinokourov (Astana), but the Swiss believes that the system is working.

"The system functions," noted Gianetti Wednesday morning in Orthez. "It is not important who the riders are, big or small. The riders who want to make cycling dirty don't have a place here. This is clear."

The former winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège formed Saunier Duval-Prodir in 2004, one year before the ProTour started and he is determined to keep his team at the top even if it means within a new league.

Christian Prudhomme had hinted at this new league Tuesday during ASO's press conference in response to Vinokourov's case. "It is clear it [the current system] is a failure," blasted the Frenchman.

"I think it is a good idea to make a league that is cleaner, with better functions, however, the system is not so bad at the moment," continued Gianetti. "We must change the riders who have the bad mentality."

The ProTour began with the 2005 season. "It is not a ProTour problem; it is a problem of the riders. The UCI ProTour was born four years ago and in this time they can't keep up. It is now four years old; it is too stationary.

"All the talks between the UCI and the organisers. They have made themselves too static and now we must move [forward]. A new [version] of the UCI ProTour? I don't know, but for sure we have to change."

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