By Susan Westemeyer
Michael Rasmussen purposely lied about his whereabouts in the period before the Tour de France, making himself unavailable for doping controls, an independent committee announced on Monday in Utrecht, Holland. Rabobank Team Manager Theo de Rooij was right to remove the cyclist from the race, it said, but he should never have started in the first place. The 33 year-old Dane was sent home following stage 16 to the Col d'Aubisque.
The committee also rejected Rasmussen's claim that he lied for personal reasons, saying "it does not deem this explanation to be credible."
The sponsor Rabobank asked the independent committee to investigate "the events and facts before, during and briefly after the Tour de France '07."
In April, when there were already suspicions concerning the Danish rider, the team sent him an e-mail concerning tickets for a training period in the Pyrénées, according to Telesport.nl. He responded that he would like for that trip to be kept "quiet," because he would say that he was in Mexico at that time. De Rooij told the rider that he would not participate in such a cover-up and that Rasmussen would have to supply the correct information to the UCI. "The responsibility for this lies completely on you," de Rooij said in an e-mail.
The committee further found that the team's Board of Directors and its Chairman de Rooij "did not adequately assess the importance of multiple signs concerning Rasmussen's conduct prior to the Tour '07," and failed to properly notify the team's supervisory board of the true state of affairs. In so doing, "the Executive Board endangered the reputation of both Rabo Cycling Teams and the Rabobank." De Rooij resigned his position in August.
The report added, "The Committee has not, however, until now been presented with any evidence that would suggest unethical conduct or a lack of integrity on the part of the cycling team's Board of Directors or medical supervision staff."
The International Cycling Union (UCI) also came in for a share of criticism in the report, which said that "The UCI must attain a higher level of professionalism with regard to the formulation, enforcement and monitoring of its own doping regulations."
In addition, the report recommended that the team improve its own whereabouts notification program.
In a statement issued Monday, sponsor Rabobank said that it agreed with the report and noted that "the main conclusion of the report is that Rasmussen was rightly expelled from the competition and later dismissed. He demonstrably lied about and tampered with his whereabouts. There is no evidence that Rasmussen used doping."
Referring to de Rooij, it added "serious errors of judgement were clearly made, primarily by the Chairman of the Board of Directors. When viewed from this perspective, the Chairman's decision shortly after the Tour to accept responsibility for the consequences ensuing from the resulting crisis is a respectable one.
"It is patently obvious from the information known now that Rasmussen should not have been allowed to start in the Tour de France," the bank's statement noted.
A full report on the independent committee's findings will follow on Cyclingnews.