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By Shane Stokes The Rabobank squad of Tour de France maillot jaune Michael Rasmussen may initially...
By Shane Stokes
The Rabobank squad of Tour de France maillot jaune Michael Rasmussen may initially have defended its rider when suspicions arose about his behaviour before the race, but in receiving proof that he had lied about his whereabouts, it made the decision to pull him from the race and fire him from the team.
UCI president Pat McQuaid has welcomed the development, even if it is a tough one for cycling “I think it is a shock for the sport, it is another blow, but having said that, it shows that the teams operate to a high ethical standards,” he told Cyclingnews on Thursday morning. “It was on an ethical platform that he was taken out by his team.
“They got strong proof that he had lied to him in relation to his whereabouts; he told them he was in Mexico while in actual fact he was in Italy. He was thrown out on that basis. From that point of view, I would have to support Rabobank completely because there are more forms of cheating than just doping. Telling lies within a team framework is also cheating as well.”
Rasmussen admitted to the team that he had indeed told mistruths about where he was. Was he doing it to avoid out of competition tests, or perhaps to work with a preparatore behind his team’s back?
“That’s not something that I can verify,” said McQuaid of those possibilities. “But his behaviour certainly leads to suspicion, and a lack of credibility as a result. In this sport, particularly in these times, we can't afford that.”
Tour organiser ASO has criticised the UCI over the Rasmussen and Vinokourov affairs, and has been talking in vague terms about setting up a new system. It’s unclear if this is a planned rival to the ProTour, or something more. McQuaid says that the last thing cycling needs at these difficult moments is further splits. Instead, it’s essential to co-operate.
“I firmly believe that now is the time for the cycling family to work together and to stay together united. The only way we are going to get through this is if everybody is working together in the one direction,” he stated. “Split and divides and any talks of other leagues or other federations will only bring the sport completely into the cauldron, so to speak.
“Now is the time for everybody to be putting their differences aside and working together for the future of the sport.”
ASO said in recent days that the current system does not work and that the Tour has not been protected. McQuaid counters by saying that the very fact that big names are being caught is a sign that the anti-doping fight is moving in the right direction, that the pressure is being applied that will finally make teams and riders realise that change needs to happen.
“I’m not sure what they [ASO] are talking about as regards a new system,” he said. “Some of the statements they are making are bit paradoxical because they are saying that the [current] system doesn't work.
“Well, if they are referring to doping, is completely wrong to say that. The anti-doping fight is working, the tests are catching people, so therefore that system - which they have bought into and everybody in the cycling family has bought into - is functioning and being seen to do so.
“For the younger riders, for all the other riders in the sport now, they need to understand that. It’s no longer the case that any riders can think that it is possible to have a clever strategy which can beat the system. They need to realise that that is no longer true, that they will ultimately be caught [if they dope]. The tests are evolving all of the time and the tests will catch the cheats. To say that system is not working is not correct.
“If what they are actually saying is that the ProTour system itself is not working, well then once again it is paradoxical. ASO refused to accept Astana as a ProTour team; it gave them a wild card into the event and therefore it was ASO themselves who invited them there. It can’t be said that the ProTour system is responsible for Astana being in the Tour, and for Astana now being out of the race.”
This Tour de France has had two high profile cases with Vinokourov testing positive and Rasmussen being ejected from the race. Christian Moreni’s positive result for testosterone is a smaller story, but also a significant one as it lead to his entire Cofidis team leaving.
Those developments are undoubtedly negative in the short term, but McQuaid said that patience is needed. “A couple of bad apples can’t spoil an orchard. The fact that we are catching the cheats means that our anti-doping system is working. It was never going to happen overnight. It wasn't the case that we could guarantee that the sport is clean by virtue of announcements or statements or pledges. It is going to take some time to convince all the cyclists of this.”