Rasmussen booed by crowd before stage start

ORTHEZ, France (Reuters) - Tour de France overall leader Michael Rasmussen was jeered by the crowd before the start of the 16th stage on Wednesday.

A Bouygues Telecom team rider (L) navigates around riders, including Rabobank team rider Michael Rasmussen of Denmark (C), who refuse to take the start of the 16th stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between Orthez and Gourette-Col d'Aubisque, July 25, 2007. Several riders at the front of the pack of cyclists delayed the start of the stage by blocking the pack, protesting the Astana team doping scandal. REUTERS/Thierry Roge

The Dane has been at the centre of controversy since the Danish Cycling Union (DCU) announced last Thursday he had been dropped from the national team for the world championships.

The DCU has since gone on to query his eligibility to compete saying the rider has received four warnings for failing to provide information of his whereabouts during training.

Under International Cycling Union (UCI) rules, a rider must inform the sport’s governing body of his personal schedule so random tests can be conducted.

If the cyclist fails to do so, he receives a warning. Three such warnings over a rolling 18-month period is considered the equivalent of a positive test and results in a two-year suspension.

Rasmussen has been dropped from his national team for the world championships and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

On Wednesday the Radobank rider started the 218.5-km Tour de France stage to the Col d’Aubisque with a 10-minute delay after the six French and two German teams competing in the race staged a protest against doping.

“He (Rasmussen) should be kicked out of the race by organisers, whatever the cost,” said AG2r team manager Vincent Lavenu.

“He is a disgrace to the sport. When Francisco Mancebo was involved in Operation Puerto (a blood-doping episode that surfaced in Spain in May 2006) I sacked him without legal grounds and it cost me 15 per cent of my budget.

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“That is about one million euros.”


Rasmussen, who was in the middle of the bunch before the start, struggled his way through to the front of the peloton. He then turned back and stared at the French riders who had been just behind him.

The stage should have started at 0840GMT but French and German team riders were involved in discussions with race director Christian Prudhomme and reporters following Tuesday’s announcement that Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan had tested positive for blood-doping.

The teams, Agritubel, AG2r, Francaise des Jeux, Bouygues Telecom, Cofidis, Credit Agricole, Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile, have formed a Movement for a Credible Cycling (MPCC), asking for all teams to abide by their good behaviour charter of 2005.

Under the charter, teams are requested to avoid fielding riders implicated in doping affairs.

“It’s a new organisation who said they want to work for a clean sport. They are working good together,” said Norway’s Thor Hushovd of the Credit Agricole team.

“It’s the team directors who have the meetings but I agree with my boss (Roger Legeay).

“There are many riders who have worked for years and are 100 percent clean and they don’t want to be tainted by those who cheat.”

Vinokourov’s Swiss Astana team pulled out of the Tour after his positive test.

“Our officials and the riders (of the MPCC) stand together,” said French champion Christophe Moreau, who rides for the AG2r team.

“It is very hard for cycling but very good for the fight against doping. It shows it works.”

The stage eventually got under way without the French and German teams, although they got going two minutes behind the rest of the peloton.

The first teams to start were booed by the crowd while the French and German ones left with applause ringing in their ears.