News Feature, July 25, 2007
After a week full of rumours and speculation on the credibility of Michael Rasmussen, the rider and his Rabobank team tried to dissolve the dark clouds that have gathered over the Danish cyclist during a rest-day press conference in Pau. Rasmussen stepped into the press room together with his team manager, Theo De Rooy, and lawyer Harro Knijff - signaling intensions of dealing with the accusations seriously. The accusation is that Rasmussen has been careless in informing the UCI of his whereabouts in the past two years and as a result the media had doubts on the credibility of the Danish rider.
The Dane, affectionately known as Chicken, started by admitting he made an administrative mistake. "I accept it and take full responsibility for that," Rasmussen declared. "I'm sorry that it is now during the Tour de France and I'm sorry that it harms cycling, the sport I love and also [Tour de France organizer] ASO."
Before digging into the accusations and warnings, lets rewind to the start of events that have lead to this moment. Back in March, 2006 Rasmussen was too late in providing his movements schedule for the second part of the 2006 season to the UCI. Another issue is that the Danish federation claims Rasmussen missed an out-of-competition test on May 6, 2007, afterwards correcting that date to April 6 and adding another missed test on June 21, 2007. Finally in June 2007 Rasmussen was again careless with sending his whereabouts schedule to the UCI, according to the claims.
During the press conference the technical details were provided by Rabobank's lawyer Knijff. He confirmed that Rasmussen made a mistake by not informing the UCI in time on his whereabouts for June 2007, explaining that he received a so-called 'recorded warning' in a letter on June 29. Knijff added that a similar letter for the same offence, but in the second half of 2006, had also been received however neither Rasmussen or Rabobank ever received a official warning for that incident, with the Dutch lawyer claiming it was only a written warning without consequences.
"I faxed the information to the UCI on April 2 and then called Anne Gripper to confirm they received the fax," explained Rasmussen. "They said it was ok and thanked me." There are some doubts about this call however, since Gripper only joined the UCI in October 2006.
Rabobank manager De Rooy explained that he took the recorded warning very serious and expressed that concern to the UCI. Nevertheless he felt that the rules were broken by the UCI. "What was considered as strictly confidential -which is very important for us - wasn't respected by the instances," De Rooy said. "Two weeks later Rasmussen is in yellow and suddenly it becomes known that he was suspended for the national team. Eventually, what should have been confidential, ended in the press."
De Rooy added that back then he concluded that Rasmussen made a small error and forced him to pay a €10,000 penalty to the team. Resultantly he felt that there was no reason to keep Rasmussen out of the Tour de France squad and De Rooy claimed that he was supported by UCI-president Pat McQuaid. "For sure more riders have recorded warnings and I ask the teams to undertake action on this confidentiality issue," he said. "All names should be known or none, anyhow it should be the same for everybody."
Knijff joined De Rooy in claiming that they had the support from the UCI-president. "There is no reason why he can't continue in this Tour de France," Knijff said, repeating the McQuaid words heard on Dutch television.
In an attempt to minimize the two missed Danish out-of-competition anti-doping tests Knijff questioned the jurisdiction of the Danish Cycling Federation outside the nation's borders. Knijff went on to add there was no missed test on May 6 anyhow. "Maybe on another occasion but not then," he said. "There must have been made an administrative failure by the UCI. Anyway, are the Danish authorities competent to control a rider outside of Denmark?"
Rasmussen explained that he has had a Mexican license for two years and from January 2007 he has a license in Monaco. "I have never been tested by the authorities in Mexico and Monaco, but I just followed up the order from the UCI to take a license where you reside," said Rasmussen, forming the perception he plays by the rule book. "I resided in Mexico because my wife is Mexican."
As the floor was opened for questions from the press, it quickly came to light Rasmussen's explanations couldn't suffice. Nonetheless the trio countered every question over ethics by referring to the technical details, repeating that there's simply no reason he should not contest the Tour de France. When a French journalist said that she couldn't trust a rider who is always late with schedules, and who is licensed in countries without governing cycling bodies Rasmussen replied by saying that he was just careless. "I simply forgot it," he said. "I came home from the Criterium International and found the letter that had arrived on April 1. The next day I called the UCI - Anne Gripper - to apologize. You can hardly call that a missed test."
The doping story about the shoe box filled with blood bags was again thrown to the skinny Dane and again he turned down the accusation. "I have no idea why he [the ex-mountainbiker] would say something like that," he stated. "I deny it, the story is not true."
De Rooy tried to explain that he felt the media's focus would be best served on the race itself, rather than some missed whereabouts lodgment dates. "The battle between Rasmussen and Contador animated the people; let them battle it out for the victory in the Tour de France," he said.
De Rooy's word give the impression Rabobank would rather the media pretend there's no cloud hanging over the squad's lead rider, but with the added focus of the world's media following Alexandre Vinokourov's positive A-sample, the Tour de France's finish is likely to be cast under yet another dark cloud.
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