In a statement released late on Wednesday evening, team sponsor Rabobank explained its reasons for the removal of Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen and his subsequent dismissal by team management. Following immense media scrutiny in recent days, the bank confirmed that Rasmussen had indeed lied to the UCI about his whereabouts in June, training in Italy rather than in Mexico as he originally stated.
According to hln.be, former professional Davide Cassani, now a commentator for Italian TV station RAI, made a statement to Danish TV on Wednesday in which he claimed to have seen the Rabobank leader training in the Italian Dolomites on June 13 and 14. Rasmussen had previously declared that he was in Mexico from June 4 - 26. "When Rasmussen was confronted with this information he confirmed to [team manager] Theo de Rooy he was at that moment in Italy," said Rabobank press officer Jacob Bergsma. "That was the reason De Rooy decided to get him out of the Tour and the team."
The bank said that its board members supported the decision to dismiss Rasmussen, but insisted it did not intend to withdraw sponsorship funds. The team itself is not leaving the Tour de France, with de Rooy allowing the riders to decide whether they wish to start Stage 17 on Thursday morning.
"What happened leaves me speechless. I am lost for words. A nightmare," said Rabobank board member Piet van Schijndel.
Reacting to Rasmussen's departure from the race, Tour director Christian Prudhomme said to AP: "We cannot say that Rasmussen cheated, but his flippancy and his lies on his whereabouts had become unbearable."
UCI president Pat McQuaid questioned why Rabobank hadn't removed Rasmussen before the Tour began. "My immediate reaction is, why didn't they do this at the end of June, when they had the same information," McQuaid told AP. "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 of the race, second placed Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) moves into the yellow jersey. "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."