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TdF 2007 - Prudhomme holds court prior to stage 17

- UCI didn't give enough warning about Rasmussen, claims race director

By Gregor Brown in Pau

Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme spoke to the press this morning yet again, concerning recent events around former yellow jersey wearer Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank). Prudhomme blamed the UCI for not clearly communicating the facts about Rasmussen's missed tests, otherwise "he would not have been allowed to start". The Tour director said he tried to call McQuaid, but "apparently he was on vacation."

The big news yesterday was that Rasmussen had left the Tour, and "there will be no yellow jersey in today's stage," the director said. The next yellow jersey will be awarded at the end of today's stage to Castelsarrasin.

Prudhomme summarized the events of last night, when he was informed by Theo de Rooy of Rabobank that Rasmussen was let go by the team due to his lying about his whereabouts in June. Prudhomme elaborated on the fact that communication was slower yesterday as "we were in the mountains and the phones didn't always work."

The Frenchman, who is in the Tour's head spot for the first time since taking over from Jean-Marie Leblanc, commented on Rasmussen's press conference two days earlier. "His answers were unsatisfactory. Now we know more about his whereabouts schedule and he does not have a place in the Tour. This is proof he shouldn't even have started the Tour."

On the question why the whole team didn't get removed from the Tour, Prudhomme stated that "In other teams there were positive test cases. This is not the case here."

He again took a stab at the UCI: the "rules aren't the problem. The real problem is that we had [an accord] with the UCI and the teams, but the UCI and some teams did not respect that. They should have been up front earlier."

Prudhomme and Patrice Clerc, president of ASO, are drawing strength out of the Rasmussen mess, which is "the best news in the last eight days". According to the pair, things are changing and "the problem is not cycling, the problem is doping." Prudhomme sees yesterday's rider's protest as a good sign. "Ten years ago they would have protested against doping controls. Now they are protesting against the cheats."

In terms of the Contador linkage to Operación Puerto the Tour director again blamed the UCI for putting Contador on the list prematurely and elaborated that the "presumption of innocence does not exist anymore. Due to the system there are are doubts about all riders," but he wants this to change back to the concept of innocent until proven otherwise.

While it's never too early to look at next year's event, Prudhomme didn't really know yet how the invitation process would pan out for 2008. "We want to work with the different anti-doping agencies, though," he made clear that the fight against doping is high on the priority list.

By his own account the Tour director slept well and his personal opinion on the stage yesterday was that it "was one of the best stages I have ever seen." He maintained that "the Tour is a magnificent event and we need to defend it." In the end he emphasize one more time that "the Tour is not the enemy. Doping is."

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