One-time Tour de France leader Rasmussen denies doping

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Michael Rasmussen said Sunday he has
never used performance-enhancing drugs and that he would not rule
out competing in next year's Tour de France.

Rasmussen, who held the yellow jersey at the Tour before being
kicked out by his own team under a cloud of doping suspicions, told
Danish broadcaster TV2 he has always raced clean.

"I have never used doping," the 33-year-old Dane told the
station. "But it is as if the yellow jersey is easiest to shoot

Speaking from his home in Lazise, Italy, Rasmussen lashed out at
the media, saying some journalists automatically assume that the
Tour leader must be cheating.

"There is perhaps an expectation that the yellow jersey is
doped," he said.

Rasmussen was expelled by the Rabobank team just hours after he
won Wednesday's stage. The team said he lied about his whereabouts
before the Tour. He missed random drug tests on May 8 and June 28,
saying he was in Mexico. But a former rider, Davide Cassani, said
he had seen Rasmussen in Italy in mid-June.

On Monday, Rabobank said it will launch an independent review of the events leading to its decision to expel Rasmussen from its Tour de France team.

However, the Dutch bank said it will not withdraw its sponsorship of cycling.

In Sunday's interview, Rasmussen again criticized his team's
decision, calling it "a very violent reaction."

He did not address his whereabouts in the lead-up to the Tour.

Rasmussen said his dismissal from the race will haunt him for
the rest of his life.

"Every day I'm going to wake up and think about not being
allowed to win the Tour de France -- the race that defines me as a
cyclist," he said. "I will never get over it. ... I believe it
equals getting a Picasso painting stolen. I was working on the
greatest piece I could achieve and it was taken away from me."

Despite his forced exit, Rasmussen said he was ready to enter
cycling's premier event again next year.

"If the chance to ride the Tour de France in 2008 pops up, I
will definitely line up," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.