Team dumps Rasmussen for violation of 'internal rules'

GOURETTE, France -- One of its biggest stars is already
gone, and now so is the leader of the Tour de France.

Michael Rasmussen was removed from the race by his Rabobank team
after winning Wednesday's stage, a day after Alexandre Vinokourov
and his team withdrew when the star cyclist tested positive for a
banned blood transfusion.

"Michael Rasmussen has been sent home for violating [the
team's] internal rules," Rabobank spokesman Jacob Bergsma told The
Associated Press by phone.

The expulsion, which Bergsma said was ordered by the Dutch
team's sponsor, was linked to "incorrect" information that
Rasmussen gave to the team's sports director over his whereabouts
last month. Rasmussen missed random drug tests May 8 and June 28,
saying he was in Mexico. But a former rider, Davide Cassani, told
Denmark's Danmarks Radio on Wednesday that he had seen Rasmussen in
Italy in mid-June.

Only once before in the history of the 104-year-old Tour has the
race leader been expelled. In 1978, Belgian rider Michel
Pollentier, trying to evade doping controls after winning a stage
at the Alpe d'Huez in the Alps, was caught with an intricate
tube-and-container system that contained urine that was not his,
said Tour historian Jean-Paul Brouchon.

"My career is ruined," Rasmussen told Dutch newspaper Algemeen

"I have no idea what I should do or where I will go," the
newspaper quoted him as saying. "This is an enormous blow for me,
and also for all the guys from the [Rabobank] team. They're devastated."

Hours before he was kicked out of the Tour, the
33-year-old told the AP he was being victimized.

"Of course I'm clean," Rasmussen said, after a doping test
following Wednesday's stage win. "Like I said, I've 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. I mean, all I
can say is that by now I had my test number 17 on this Tour, and
all of those have come back negative. I don't feel I can do anymore
than that."

Although Rasmussen has not tested positive, some fellow cyclists
had openly voiced their skepticism about him.

Fans booed Rasmussen at the start of Wednesday's stage, and
mostly French teams staged a protest to express disgust at the
doping scandals that have left cycling's credibility in tatters. As
the starter's flag came down, dozens of protesting riders stood
still as Rasmussen, ace sprinter Tom Boonen and several others
began riding away.

Some riders were forced to lift up their bicycles to get around
their protesting colleagues, who eventually rejoined the race after
causing a 13-minute delay. But the message was sent.

"We're fed up," AG2R rider Ludovic Turpin of France told
Eurosport television.

Tour organizers said Tuesday they would have stopped Rasmussen
from taking part in the race had they known about the missed tests
before the July 7 start.

"We cannot say that Rasmussen cheated, but his flippancy and
his lies on his whereabouts had become unbearable," Tour director
Christian Prudhomme said.

The leader of cycling's governing body applauded the decision.

"My immediate reaction is, why didn't they do this at the end
of June, when they had the same information," International
Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid said.

"The team decided to pull him out -- that's their prerogative. I
can only applaud that. It's a zero-tolerance policy, and it's a
lesson for the future."

With Rasmussen out, Spanish rider Alberto Contador of the
Discovery Channel team moved into the lead. Australian Cadel Evans,
who rides for Predictor-Lotto, moved up to second, with U.S. rider
Levi Leipheimer, also with Discovery, now third.

"It's in no way a celebration on our end. It's the third piece
of bad news," said Discovery Channel spokesman P.J. Rabice. "It
reflects badly on our sport."

Bergsma said the Rabobank team, which has suspended Rasmussen,
had not decided yet whether its other riders would take the start
Thursday in Pau. Its next best rider was Michael Boogerd of the
Netherlands, 16th and about 28 minutes behind Contador.

After the Tour's upbeat start in London, when millions of
spectators lined streets to watch, bad news -- nearly all of it
related to doping -- quickly dominated.

German rider Patrick Sinkewitz crashed into a spectator then was
revealed to have failed a drug test in training before the Tour,
and Vinokourov was sent home after testing positive for a banned
blood transfusion. On Wednesday, as Rasmussen was riding toward his
stage 16 win, the Cofidis squad confirmed its Italian rider
Cristian Moreni failed a doping test, prompting the withdrawal of
the entire squad.

Police detained Moreni after he finished the stage and searched
the hotel where his Cofidis team was staying. Results from the raid
weren't expected until Thursday. France has tough laws against
trafficking in doping products.

Cofidis manager Eric Boyer said Moreni "accepted his
wrongdoing" and waived his right for a follow-up test to confirm
the results of the first, which was positive for the male hormone

All this talk of doping prompted Jean-Francois Lamour, vice
president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, to suggest the sport
should be yanked from the Olympics. German public broadcasters have
stopped airing the race, and one of Switzerland's biggest
newspapers stopped writing about it. The daily Tages Anzeiger said
on its Web site Wednesday it will limit its coverage to results and
doping stories.

Tom Lund, chairman of the Danish Cycling Union, said Rabobank
"did they right thing, because it is a situation that no serious
team cannot live with."

"It is an unfortunate situation for Danish cycling, for
international cycling."