Reeling Tour de France enjoys scandal-free day

CASTELSARRASIN, France Thu Jul 26, 2007 5:44pm EDT

1 of 13. Shadows are cast on the road as the pack of riders cycle during the 17th stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between Pau and Castelsarrasin, July 26, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Gaillard

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CASTELSARRASIN, France (Reuters) - Battered and bruised, the Tour de France successfully came through Thursday with further mishap after the 17th stage to Castelsarrasin started without a race leader and two teams.

Dane Michael Rasmussen was dramatically sacked by Rabobank on Wednesday after the Dutch team said he had lied about his training whereabouts in June.

Rabobank said Rasmussen told them he was training in Mexico in June while he was actually in Italy and therefore decided to kick him out.

"Rabobank is shocked and enormously disappointed that Rasmussen has lied about his whereabouts," the team said.

Rasmussen denied being in Italy.

"I am shattered," Rasmussen told Danish tabloid BT. "I am on the verge of tears. I was not in Italy. Not at all. That's the story of one man who believes he recognized me. There is no hint of evidence."

Rabobank described the episode as "a dark page" in their history but decided that the rest of the team would continuing in the race.

The team's sponsors said on Thursday Rabobank was carrying out extra doping tests on its riders at the Tour and that it had already decided to do so before Rasmussen's dismissal.

"The cyclists are not under suspicion, but as a sponsor, we want to be absolutely sure that our team is competing in good health," said Thomas van Rijckevorsel, a member of the Rabo Cycling Team's supervisory board.

TWO WARNINGS

It also emerged that Rasmussen had received two warnings from the UCI, the second on June 29, for failing to provide the sport's governing body with his training whereabouts. According to the sport's rule book, he should not have even started the Tour.

"In a case of a recorded warning or a missed test in a period of 45 days before the start of a major Tour, the rider is not allowed to participate in that Tour," UCI Cycling Regulations state.

UCI president Pat McQuaid said cycling's governing body planned to delete this rule at its next meeting.

"In Mr Rasmussen's case, he has had a test in the 45-day period before the start of the Tour de France," McQuaid told Reuters.

"We have thought that the article 220 was too harsh. If a rider provides his training whereabouts 24 hours too late, he faces the risk of being deprived of a major Tour.

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme welcomed the news of Rasmussen's sacking.

"This is the best piece of news we've had in the last eight days," Prudhomme told a news conference.

Rasmussen's dismissal was the latest blow to the Tour's credibility, coming soon after the announcement of positive dope tests on pre-race favorite Alexander Vinokourov and Italy's Cristian Moreni.

Vinokourov's Astana team and Moreni's Cofidis have both pulled out of the race.

After Rasmussen's departure the yellow jersey passed to Spain's Alberto Contador who, because of race rules, had to wait until the end of the stage to wear it.

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