Rasmussen failed to report whereabouts before start of Tour

Updated: July 21, 2007, 8:53 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MONTPELLIER, France -- Tour de France leader Michael Rasmussen acknowledged Friday that he made an "administrative error" involving drug-testing rules that prompted his expulsion from the Danish national cycling team.

Tour de France officials said Friday that Rasmussen missed two recent drug tests. A third no-show would be considered equivalent to a positive test and lead to a ban.

Michael Rasmussen
AP Photo/Bas CzerwinskiMichael Rasmussen was swarmed by reporters before Stage 12 Friday after it was learned he'd been kicked off the Danish national team.

Denmark's cycling federation said Thursday that Rasmussen could no longer ride with the national team at international races because he failed to report his whereabouts for drug-testing purposes.

"I do admit that I've committed an administrative error," Rasmussen said before Friday's start of the 12th stage of the Tour. "I was informed of this at the Danish championship 2 1/2 weeks ago, so it's no news."

Danish federation and international rules require cyclists to keep officials informed of their whereabouts for possible unannounced doping controls.

If that weren't enough, on Friday, a former amateur mountain biker said that in 2002, Rasmussen attempted to dupe him into carrying illegal doping materials on a flight to Europe, VeloNews reports on its Web site.

Whitney Richards, 31, told VeloNews that in March 2002, Rasmussen asked him to transport a box containing cycling shoes on a flight to Italy. But instead of shoes, the box contained bags of a man-made blood substitute, according to the report.

Asked about the allegations at Friday's post-race news conference, Rasmussen said he was familiar with Richards' name, but declined further comment. "I cannot confirm any of that. I do know the name," he said.

Rasmussen's cycling team, Rabobank, stood by its rider.

"All I can say is that it happened in 2002 at a time when Michael Rasmussen was not on our team," team spokesman Jacob Bergsma said of the allegation. "He joined the team in 2003. Based on his medical records, we have no doubts about Michael Rasmussen.

"That's all I can say about it."

Rasmussen said he was tested out of competition in June, and the results were negative.

"It might be a surprise that it comes out right now," he said. "I'm very calm and very relaxed ... It's a minor deal. I know that a lot of riders in the peloton receive warnings for not informing or not giving updated information to the UCI [cycling's governing body]. I'm just one out of many, and I just happen to ride with the yellow jersey right now.

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"I have no positive doping tests, and that's it," he said.

The UCI confirmed Friday that Rasmussen was notified of the violations on June 29, his final warning.

"A further breach with regard to providing information on his whereabouts would automatically result in disciplinary proceedings being taken against him," the UCI said in a statement. "Information on the whereabouts of athletes is vital for the effectiveness of out-of-competition random testing, to which the UCI attaches great importance."

Rasmussen cannot represent Denmark at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, in September. A decision on whether he competes at the Olympics in Beijing next year rests with the Danish Olympic Committee.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme said Rasmussen received a warning on June 29 from UCI's anti-doping manager Anne Gripper because he missed random drug tests on May 8 and June 28. Anti-doping officials sought to contact Rasmussen but he had not informed them of his whereabouts. He was reportedly training in Mexico.

"This is blown out of proportion," Rasmussen said before stage 12. "It's a matter of misinformation."

Prudhomme said that Rasmussen, winner of the King of the Mountains jersey as the Tour's best climber the past two years, had three UCI blood tests on June 30, July 5 and July 17 and was declared clean each time.

Rasmussen also gave four urine samples on July 15, 17, 18 and 19, Prudhomme said. Those came on the day he won the eighth stage and the days following as he held the yellow jersey.

Prudhomme wondered why Rasmussen was allowed to compete at the Danish national championships on July 1, and why the decision to drop him from the national team was made this week during the Tour, days after the warning.

Prudhomme said Denmark's decision to bar Rasmussen from his national team had no bearing on him racing at the Tour.

"Should a warning be considered as a sanction because, as far as the Danish federation is concerned, Rasmussen should not represent his country at the World Championships and the Olympic Games?" Prudhomme said.

UCI president Pat McQuaid said the UCI had no involvement in the timing of the announcement.

"It's beyond our control," McQuaid told The Associated Press by telephone. "It was the Danish federation under pressure from the Danish media. They took decisions back in June about Rasmussen."

While Rasmussen dealt with the fallout from the Danish team, there was more allegations from the VeloNews report.

Richards, who befriended Rasmussen when the two were training for the 2001 world mountain bike championships in Vail, Colo., told VeloNews he decided to go public with the allegations -- five years after the fact -- after he heard Rasmussen comment on doping in the sport, promising cycling fans could "trust" him.

According to the report, in 2002, Rasmussen asked Richards to bring a pair of cycling shoes he had left in the United States to him in Italy. Richards agreed, and two days before his departure, a mutual friend delivered the box containing what Richards thought were shoes.

But Richards, trying to fit his belongings in his luggage, opened the box and found plastic bags labeled "Biopure," according to VeloNews.

According to the report, Richards, with the help of a physiologist friend, determined the bags were filled with Hemopure, a hemoglobin-based oxygen carrier made from hemoglobin molecules from the red cells of cow's blood. The substance, designed as an emergency blood substitute that does not need refrigeration, is only approved for human use in South Africa and is believed to have been used in doping as an EPO substitute. Its use is banned under the World Anti-Doping Code.

Richards said he dumped the contents down the sink. "There was no way that I would carry that on to an airplane or carry that through customs anywhere," Richards told VeloNews.

Physiologist Taro Smith confirmed Richards' recollection of the incident to VeloNews.

"The box was packed full of silver Mylar packages labeled 'Biopure.' Once you opened them, there were clear plastic IV sets with what looked like blood inside," Smith told VeloNews. "The box was packed full of these. That's all I know. I don't have first-hand knowledge if where they came from or who delivered them to [Richards], but I do know what was in the box."

Richards said when he confronted Rasmussen about the bags a few weeks later, Rasmussen acknowledged he had used poor judgment, but got angry when he learned Richards had disposed of the contents. Richards told VeloNews that Rasmussen asked him if he had "any idea how much this [stuff] cost?"

Richards said he hasn't spoken with Rasmussen since confronting him although he's seen him at some races.

He said he struggled with his silence over the matter for years: "It's like watching someone steal your neighbor's car and not saying anything."

"I've had mixed feelings. I don't like to create chaos out there," Richards said. "But I don't have any regrets."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.