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Embattled Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
Former teammate testifies in wrongful termination suit
The Rabobank team management and riders knew of the whereabouts of Michael Rasmussen in 2007 as he prepared for the Tour de France, according to testimony at a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by the Dutch rider.
Rasmussen was removed from the 2007 Tour de France prior to stage 17 whilst leading the race after reports surfaced that in June, he had informed the doping authorities that he was training in Mexico, but was actually in Italy. He fought against being suspended for the whereabouts violations, served a back-dated ban through the 2009 season following a failed appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He is seeking 5.6 million euros in damages for wrongful dismissal from the Rabobank team.
Then-team manager Theo de Rooij and directeur Erik Breukink had testified that they had no knowledge of the deception, but today Rasmussen reiterated his assertions that the team was fully aware of where he was.
"It would have been stupid to prepare for the Tour in another time zone. It was an excuse to escape the press," said Rasmussen. He said he informed Breukink of his plans at the Tour of the Basque Country in April, 2007, and that the team doctors Geert Leinders and Jan-Paul van Mantgem were also aware of his location.
His then-teammate Max van Heeswijk today testified that the other Rabobank riders knew that Rasmussen was not in Mexico. "At a training camp for riders who weren't doing the Tour, Gerben Löwik came with the news that Rasmussen wasn't in Mexico. We already knew that from Thomas Dekker, who was in the Tour."
Dekker was not present at today's hearing, but is due to testify at the next one in March.
Breukink and de Rooij had stated last month that they only learned of the deception on July 25, 2007, when Rasmussen was leading the Tour de France. At the time, the Tour de France was already under the cloud of doping, with the case of its 2006 champion Floyd Landis still pending arbitration and then the positive test for blood transfusion of Alexandre Vinokourov, which led to the entire Astana team withdrawing from the race.
On the same day that Rasmussen's whereabouts violations became public, Cofidis also withdrew from the race following the confirmation that its rider Cristian Moreni had tested positive for testosterone. Despite pulling Rasmussen from the race and then firing him, Rabobank remained in the Tour de France, but later quietly changed management: De Rooij stepped down after the Tour and was replaced by Harald Knebel.