Thursday, 26 July 2007
Rasmussen next through Tour de France trapdoor...
As the world’s media were still chewing over the bones of the Alexander Vinokourov affair today, yet more dramatic events were waiting in the wings at what is now becoming the biggest sporting Soap Opera ever seen.
First came the news that Cofidis rider Cristian Moreni had tested positive for excessive levels of testosterone on Stage 11. Moreni started today's stage, even though most of the assembled press had already heard the rumours of his 'positive' before it got underway. Perhaps it was part of Moreni’s punishment to send him out to compete the hardest of the race’s mountain stages, only to then be hauled off by the Gendarmes for questioning after crossing the line?
It is deplorable that the media should hear such confidential information first, although that shouldn’t be taken as a mitigating factor in Moreni’s favour. The way in which the events were handled were at best insensitive and at worst must leave outsiders wondering who is actually in control. The upshot of this first scandal of the day shouldn't leave too much doubt on that score, however, with yet another feather going into the cap of race organisers ASO. The Cofidis team immediately left the race, following Astana through the trapdoor.
The irony of a French team tainted by a foreign rider will I’m sure not be lost across the Channel, a nation proud of its recent efforts towards a cleaner sport. Hard luck too for Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, a team-mate of Moreni. Wiggins is one rider surely beyond all suspicion, and I’m sure that he'll be reflecting on just how important it is that a rider can trust his team-mates. He could be forgiven for venting large amounts of anger in Moreni’s direction, although the Italian has at least held his hands up and admitted a fair cop by not requesting tests on his ‘B’ Sample. No consolation for Wiggins, but it should at least be one less protracted legal case in which the integrity of the sport is dragged through the courts.
The day’s biggest story however is not as it should have been. Michael Rasmussen’s working over of Alberto Contador on the Col D’Aubisque, withstanding everything that the Spaniard and his Discovery Channel team-mate Levi Leipheiner could throw at him, made for thrilling viewing. Rasmussen had been booed at the start of the day's racing, and ASO spokesman Patrice Clerc yesterday indicated at a Press Conference that he should not have been allowed on to the start line in London. The pressures off the road were proving far greater for the rider than the challenges on it.
Just as most of us were heading to bed tonight came the breaking news of Rasmussen's dismissal from the Rabobank team, and with it his withdrawal from the race. There must be a story to tell when a team takes such drastic action against a rider within reach of the biggest prize in cycling, and my guess is that the team jumped before they were pushed. For now, the official line is that the Dane lied over his whereabouts at the time of the recent missed doping tests, stating he was in Mexico when in fact he was in Italy. Rabobank are not withdrawing from the race, but will instead give their riders the choice as to whether or not they start Thursday’s 17th Stage in Pau.
It now looks like a two horse race between Contador, tipped for future greatness but surely not expecting the mantle to come his way so quickly, and Cadel Evans, a plucky and consistent rider whose performances are reassuringly solid but unspectacular. Evans may well have the last laugh if he can show the world that 'incredible' performances are worth far less than believable ones.
After the dust has settled on an extraordinary 48 hours, the message that nobody is too big to take a fall will surely hit the peleton with a massive force. As ammunition in the fight against doping, this may prove to be the decisive turning point we've all been after, the moment that the world’s biggest race turned on its protagonists and said ‘enough is enough’. After this, you must surely be a dope to consider doping.