Tour de France leader pulled out of race
Michael Rasmussen of Denmark sent home by team
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2007 | 6:44 PM ET
Race leader Michael Rasmussen of Denmark has been expelled from the Tour de France for violating team policy.
Rasmussen, 33, was removed Wednesday at the request of team sponsor Rabobank, shortly after winning the 16th stage and upping his overall lead to three minutes 10 seconds.
"Rasmussen has been sent home for violating internal rules," Rabobank team spokesman Jacob Bergsma told the Associated Press.
Although it remains unclear whether the team will keep racing without him, witnesses reported seeing police raid the hotel in Pau where it was staying.
Rasmussen's expulsion is linked to "incorrect" information regarding his whereabouts, provided to the team's sports director, when he missed random drug tests on May 8 and June 28.
"Why didn't they do this at the end of June, when they had the same information?" asked International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid.
"The team decided to pull him out, that's their prerogative [and] I can only applaud that. It's a zero-tolerance policy and a lesson for the future."
Rabobank issued a release claiming it was "shocked and enormously disappointed that Rasmussen has lied about his whereabouts. Wrongly reporting whereabouts is a flagrant violation of UCI rules and is unacceptable."
"Several times he said where he was training and it proved to be wrong," Rabobank director Theo de Rooy said. "The management of the team received that information several times and, today, we received new information."
Rasmussen, the Tour leader since July 15, spoke to the media following Wednesday's drug test and maintained that he is clean.
"Of course, I'm clean," he said. "I have been tested 17 times now in less than two weeks … both the peloton and the public, they're just taking their frustration out on me now.
"All I can say is, by now, I had my test No. 17 on this Tour, and all of those have come back negative. I don't feel I can do anymore than that."
"We cannot say that Rasmussen cheated," Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme noted. "But his flippancy and his lies on his whereabouts had become unbearable."
Moreni fails drug test
Doping remained a hot topic for the second straight day as Italian cyclist Cristian Moreni tested positive for testosterone — which French newspaper L'Equipe reported was administered, not natural, and detected following the 11th stage on July 19.
Moreni, who was taken away by police at the completion of Wednesday's stage, "accepted his wrongdoing and did not ask for a B sample," Cofidis team manager Eric Boyer said.
On Tuesday, Team Astana pulled out of the event after its lead rider, Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, tested positive for a banned blood transfusion.
Vinokourov, a pre-race favourite, insists he didn't cheat and that Astana is simply being persecuted.
"I never doped," Vinokourov told Wednesday's edition of L'Equipe. "That's not the way I see my profession.
"I think it is a mistake, in part, due to my crash. I have spoken to the team doctors, who had a hypothesis that there was an enormous amount of blood in my thighs, which could have led to my positive test."
Rasmussen led by 3:10
Rasmussen negotiated Wednesday's challenging 218.5-kilometre trek through the Pyrenees from Orthez to Gourette-Col d'Aubisque in six hours 23 minutes and 21 seconds to retain the yellow jersey.
Levi Leipheimer of the United States placed second and Alberto Contador of Spain finished third.
Rasmussen extended his overall lead to 3:10 over Contador and 5:10 over Australia's Cadel Evans.
But with Rasmussen removed, Contador, who cycles for Discovery Channel, will take over the lead.
"It is in no way a celebration on our end," Discovery Channel spokesman P.J. Rabice said. "It is the third piece of bad news.
"It reflects badly on our sport."
The 94th Tour de France wraps up Sunday in Paris.