Firstly, a recap of yesterday’s events. Immediately after the stage, it was announced that Christian Moreni (Cofidis & Italy) had failed a drug test, earlier in the race. Not only was he immediately disqualified, his entire team was asked to leave the race. To illustrate the seriousness of the situation, Moreni was arrested after the stage and driven-away by the police whilst still wearing his race clothing.
The mood in the press room was subdued, except for during Rasmussen’s televised press conference when journalists guffawed at his stuttering answers. Earlier in the afternoon we had listened to Rasmussen being ‘boo-ed’ up the climb by as many fans as were cheering him, so his stock was already low.
It was almost midnight and we were finally nearing our hotel in Lourdes when an SMS message came-in to tell us that Rasmussen was off the race. Despite the lateness of the hour, we sent and received a flurry of SMS and emails. The facts emerged that Rasmussen missed at least two ‘out of competion’ drug tests earlier in the year, which were due to be conducted by the Danish Federation. Rasmussen’s excuse was that he had been visiting his wife’s family in Mexico. However, he was spotted by ex-rider and Italian TV pundit Davide Cassani, training in the Dolomites during the time period in June when he said he was in Mexico. Cassani contacted Danish TV and Rasmussen was exposed as a liar. Rasmussen’s team, Rabobank acted quickly and honourably, dismissing him from the team immediately.
We were in a daze as we sat and ate our late-night pizzas in surreal Lourdes town centre with it’s neon, tacky icon shops and gangs of ‘hyper’ kids on ‘pilgrimages’ roaming the streets.
Thursday morning dawned beautifully clear, but our minds were still fuddled. Then I received a text from my girlfriend, Marlene; “I’m sorry that the sport you love so much is in crisis, but try to hold on to the thoughts of the many riders who compete with integrity.”
As usual, she was right and my mind was clearer as we headed-off towards Pau to hear what the riders have to say about ‘l’affaire Rasmussen.’
• Julian Dean (Credit Agricole & New Zealand): I don’t know what to think, or say, I’m just confused that it’s all going-on. I have to just try and concentrate on my own job of looking after Thor Hushovd.
• Charly Wegelius (Liquigas & GB): It’s hard to know what to think. I’m sick and tired of the same old subject. This sport has so many positives for the fans, but they are being left to one side because of the actions of a few riders. Every morning, I get-up and have to ride 200 kilometres, that takes a lot of concentration and spirit. With all this going on, it’s hard to concentrate and do your job.
• Dario Cioni (Predictor/Lotto & Italy): It has certainly been an interesting few days, but for negative rather than positive reasons. It’s getting that I am afraid to read the newspaper when I get-up in the morning. But the bad news is generated by a minority of the peloton; unfortunately that minority make an awful lot of noise.
• Geraint Thomas (Barloworld & GB): I think it’s shit! I’m new to the pro world and it’s great just to be here, but for the yellow jersey to go off the race is not good for the sport. I do think rider’s attitudes are changing though, and the attitude of the teams has definitely changed; there’s no longer pressure being applied to the riders to take illegal substances.
• David Millar (Saunier Duval & Scotland): I’m happy, he deserved to go, he was playing the system and lost, his approach was disgusting. The last couple of days have been like a bad movie. I’m surprised and pleased that Rabobank acted so quickly, though. What’s great news, is that difficult decisions are being made, but they have to be made, if the sport is to be saved. The professional cheaters are getting pulled, and that’s good. [Just at that, a spectator mentioned David's 'American' origins, the reply was swift and emphatic; 'I'm not f***ing American, I'm Scottish! - good boy, David!]
• Dag-Otto Lauritzen (former Tour stage winner on Alpe d’Huez and now a pundit with Norwegian TV): There have been rumours about him for some time and now he’s been caught in a lie. Rabobank simply don’t trust him any more, I suspect that they have been accumulating evidence against him for a few days. It’s good they got him, but it’s an interesting situation, because he hasn’t actually failed a test; although, I believe that there’s a UCI rule which says that if a rider has two no-shows within the 45 days prior to the Tour, then he can be excluded from the race. I think that maybe though, the UCI should have done something about the situation sooner. Whilst it’s good that he’s been caught, maybe we should take a minute to think about him as a human being, right now he’ll be down on the ground and I hope he has someone there beside him.
• Chris Horner (Predictor/Lotto): Rabobank made a moral decision that was correct, I don’t know if he’s guilty or innocent but when guys disappear for weeks on end, then you lose control of what they are doing. I think Rabobank’s actions were very positive.
• ‘The syringe guys': At first we did this for fun but the symbolism is that there is a lot of abuse happening in all sport, not just cycling, we love sport and want to remind people what is going-on. We know there is no Utopia in sport or life, but we hope the Tour is clean next year – then we will stop.
• And the last word goes to former Tour, king of the mountains and centre pin in the Festina controversy; “Don’t speak English!”
That’s pretty close to nauseating right now.
Why didn’t that surprise us?
All we can say is that the attitude, facial expressions and body language of all the riders we spoke to, struck us as completely sincere. There may still be riders out there kitted-up, but there is little doubt that they will be caught. If not by the UCI then maybe by their own teams? If there are more ‘positif’ tests then we should be up-beat rather than negative, just think of it as the demons showing themselves at an exorcism.