Title: The Scapegoat - About the Expulsion of Michael Rasmussen from the Tour de France 2007 and Beyond
Author: Werner Møller
What it is: An examination of Michael Rasmussen's expulsion from the 2007 Tour de France, following his story through his attempts to return to the pro ranks following the ending of his two years suspension for whereabouts violations.
Strengths: Møller is a complex man with views that seem to be out of step with the current anti-doping orthodoxy.
Weaknesses: Møller is a complex man with views that seem to be out of step with the current anti-doping orthodoxy.
Werner Møller's The Scapegoat deals with the case of Michael Rasmussen: his expulsion from the 2007 Tour de France, his subsequent suspension for whereabouts violations and his frustrated attempts to return to the top tier of the professional peloton. A quick refresher of the story may be in order, so let's go through the key events that led to Rasmussen's downfall.
The basic case against Rasmussen is quite simple, though somewhat complicated by cycling's alphabet soup of differing agencies with responsibility for carrying out dope tests. The key agencies involved here are the UCI and the ADD (Anti Doping Denmark, the Danish branch of WADA). The timeline of events runs as follows:
- On March 24, 2006 the UCI issued Rasmussen a recorded warning for having failed to provide whereabouts information for Q2 2006 (April to June). This information should have been submitted by March 17;
- ADD attempted to test Rasmussen on April 6 2007, failed, and issued a recorded warning (May 8, 2007);
- On June 29, 2007 the UCI issued a further recorded warning, this time concerning Rasmussen's late filing of changes to his whereabouts during the periods June 4-12 and 12-28, 2007;
- ADD again attempted to test Rasmussen, on June 21, 2007. Again they failed. Again they issued a recorded warning (July 10, 2007).
Under the relevant rules, a rider needed three recorded warnings from the same agency within a rolling eighteen month period in order to trigger the three-strikes-and-you're-out rule. On July 10, 2007, then, Rasmussen was in receipt of four separate recorded warnings, two from the UCI for late filing of whereabouts information and two from ADD for missed tests. Under the relevant rules, Rasmussen was sailing close to the wind but had not yet triggered an anti-doping violation.
While out-of-competition testing had been available to the UCI for some time (Bo Hamburger was busted in 2001 following an OOC test after the Flèche Wallone and you can find riders popping OOC positives in the 'nineties) it did not really become a proper tool in the anti-doping arsenal until after the Whereabouts system was implemented. Following the UCI accepting the World Anti Doping Code prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics they set about implementing a Whereabouts system (the previous OOC system was used at World Championships and on rest days in stage races, along with those occasions when the UCI actually knew - or could guess - a rider's whereabouts).
The following UCI testing stats for the years 2006 to 2010 give some indication to the role OOC testing was beginning to play in 2007:
|Total In- and Pre-Competition Tests||8,097||8,392||6,562||6,619||7,649|
|Total Out-of-Competition Tests||156||1,457||6,662||9,080||5,273|
The 2007 Tour had started on July 7, in London (at which point Rasmussen had on his record two recorded warnings from the UCI and one from ADD). As with the previous Tour - and the 1999 race - the 2007 race started not just without the defending champion taking the line (technically still Floyd Landis as he worked through the appeal system) but without any previous winners in the peloton. The race was wide open and among the pre-race favourites Rasmussen was something of an outside bet. Twice the winner of the King of the Mountains prize the Chicken was known to have targeted the Tour and could provide some threat to the main pre-race favourites like Alexandre Vinokurov and Andreas Klöden (both Astana) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).
Through the first week of the race the usual phoney-war went on. Fabian Cancellera grabbed the first maillot jaune and held it through to stage seven, when it passed to Linus Gerdemann (T-Mobile). A week in, on stage eight, the 165 kilo haul from le Grand Bornand to Tignes Rasmussen took flight on the middle climb of the day, the Cormet Roselend, flew over the Montée d'Hauteville and then on up to the finish on Montée de Tignes, taking the stage, the prize for the day's most combatitive rider, the polka-dots jersey, and the yellow one too.
For the next few days after that July 15 stage win nothing much happened in the actual race. Outside of the race, though, things began to turn sour on July 18 when DR1 - Denmark's public service TV station - announced that Rasmussen was in receipt of multiple warnings from the UCI and ADD over whereabouts violations. Rasmussen confirmed that he was in receipt of a single warning, and said that it was a simple administrative issue.
The following day the Danish Cycling Union's Jesper Worre spoke to DR1. Instead of simply pointing out that Rasmussen hadn't actually violated the three-strikes rule, Worre pointed out that Rasmussen had more than one strike against his name. What's interesting about Worre's comments is that he acknowledged he was breaking his own rules:
"DR: What other warnings has he received?
"Worre: Well, when we receive this kind of information from the UCI and Anti Doping Denmark it is actually confidential. But we have chosen... well we will not lie about this matter. Michael has received more than one warning and they are not of an administrative nature. Actually we are taking this so seriously that the board - I think it was on 21 June - decided that Michael would no longer be part of the Danish national team. We had made an agreement in December that he could ride for the national team. This is no longer the case. We informed him about this on 26 June."
At this point it's probably worth recalling the fevered atmosphere that surrounded the Tour in 2007. Operación Puerto had kicked off before the start of the previous year's race and its fallout was still hitting the sport. Ivan Basso was out with a two year ban (apparently for the imaginative thought-crime of having considered doping) and Jan Ullrich had joined his great rival, Lance Armstrong, in retirement, having also been linked with the Spanish scandal. Various Telekom riders and staff from down the years had suddenly discovered that confession was good for the soul (and two of them had realised it was also good for selling books as well) and had admitted to having doped in the past, leading ASO to say they were stripping Bjarne Riis of his 1996 yellow jersey and Erik Zabel of his 1999 green.
A few weeks before the Tour started the UCI's Anne Gripper informed the media that the UCI had a special watch-list of six or seven riders, dubbed the Men in Black, who were messing around with the Whereabouts system and dodging Out-of-Competition tests. Speculation as to the identities of these MIB focused on three Astana riders - Vinokourov, Andreas Klöden and Andrey Kashechkin - with Rasmussen also named by some. The UCI refused to comment of the riders' identities.
The UCI were so concerned by what was going on that all top tier riders were asked to voluntarily sign a "Rider's Commitment to a New Cycling" in which they pledged to pay a year's salary should they pop a positive. The voluntary nature of this Commitment was somewhat undermined by the diktat that only riders who'd put their name to it could ride the Tour.
By the time that the Rasmussen scandal blew up during the Tour it had been revealed that Caisse d'Epargne's Marco Fertonani had popped a positive back in February at the Tour Méditerranéen and was provisionally suspended. On the same day that the Rasmussen scandal erupted T-Mobile's Patrik Sinkewitz was pulled from the race, after it was revealed he'd popped a positive in an OOC test before the race. Following the T-Mobile confessions earlier in the year this prompted German TV channels ZDF and ARD to pull the plug on their broadcasts.
Add to all this the ongoing feud between the UCI and ASO over the ProTour and more media attention was focussed on off the road action than on. In this atmosphere there was little sympathy for anyone suspected of doping. And little regard for the letter of the law either: if the dopers were going to pay scant regard to the rules, well the anti-doping side could do the same too. All that mattered was cleaning the sport up.
Things were bad enough for Rasmussen as they were with questions being asked about his Whereabouts violations. Then they got worse. For several years a story had been floating around in cycling circles concerning a shoe box that contained a blood substitute. Shortly before the Tour commenced the story had appeared in David Walsh's From Lance to Landis. No one had been able to stand the story up before, it was the word of one man, Whitney Richards, against another and heretofore Richards had insisted on keeping his name out of the story. But then Richards decided to go public with it and VeloNews' Neal Rogers confronted Rasmussen with the question in a post-stage press conference: were you the rider Richards was talking about? Rasmussen claimed to be unable to confirm the story.
That press conference came at the end of stage 12 and the following day delivered the individual time trial, where Rasmussen raised eye-brows with a ride that saw him holding onto the yellow jersey on the day most everyone expected him to lose it. Rasmussen was a mountain goat better known for falling of his bike a lot in time trials. While he clearly had room for improvement the level by which he'd stepped up surprised many. Still, they do say that the yellow jersey gives you wings and Rasmussen attributed much of his performance on the day to weather conditions that had improved by the time he shot down the start ramp.
Nothing much changed over the next few days save for a comment from Pat McQuaid that he would feel uncomfortable were Rasmussen to win the Tour (McQuaid had already said he'd be uncomfortable with a Vinokourov victory after he'd revealed he was working with Michele Ferrari). On the July 24 rest day - separating stages fifteen and sixteen - Vinokourov was bounced out of the race when he popped a positive for a heterologous blood transfusion and the whole of his Astana team withdrew from the Tour (when Andrey Kashechkin later also popped a positive - also for a heterologous transfusion - speculation centred on he and Vino having had their blood bags accidently mixed up).
On the rest day Rasmussen had given the usual press conference for the wearer of the yellow jersey. A lot of the questions he faced concerned the doping cloud hanging over him. Rasmussen's answers managed to make a bad situation worse. Given that cycling is, in reality, as much about marketing as it is about sport and athletes act as brand ambassadors for their sponsors, it is remarkable how little media training they receive. As fans, we quite like this, it makes them, if not more honest and open, them at least more human in their answers. Sometimes though they are all too human.
Rasmussen's first mistake was to try and explain away the recorded warnings he had received. The first recorded warning, he claimed, had been issued without the normal step of a written warning having been issued (the difference between a written warning and a recorded warning is analogous to the difference between a non-negative test result and a positive: a non-negative may be excused by a Therapeutic Use Exemption and thus does not automatically trigger a positive. Similarly a rider messing up his Whereabouts is supposed to receive a written warning to which he may respond with an explanation. It is only if that explanation is insufficient that a recorded warning is issued).
Rasmussen tried to explain that he had phoned the UCI at the time about this. Asked by the media who had taken his call Rasmussen said it was Anne Gripper. The problem here being that when Rasmussen had claimed to have called the UCI in Spring 2006, Gripper was not yet in situ, she not arriving in Aigle until later in the year. Maybe, as Møller argues in The Scapegoat, Rasmussen made a simple mistake here: maybe he did speak to a woman in Aigle and, pressed for a name, came up with the UCI's most prominent female staffer. Maybe the media should have cut the guy some slack and accepted he'd simple mis-spoke. But that proved to be the least of the problems Rasmussen caused for himself that day.
In explaining the missed test from ADD and his second late-filing error with the UCI, Rasmussen made reference to the fact that he had been training in Mexico. Rasmussen was a man of the world: a Dane married to a Mexican who lived in Italy and rode under a racing licence issued in Monaco. That he was known to train in Mexico was why some had suspected him of being one of Gripper's half-dozen Men in Black. The problem with the Mexico story though was that, earlier in the race, Italian commentator and former pro Davide Cassani had made a reference to having seen Rasmussen training in Italy, Cassani making the point that Rasmussen was taking his preparation for the Tour seriously. Rasmussen was now saying that, at the time Cassani said he saw Rasmussen in Italy, he was actually in Mexico. When a Danish journalist, DR's Niels Christian, got Cassani to go on the record with his sighting of the Dane in the Dolomites Rasmussen's goose was well and truly cooked.
When the Tour had resumed on stage sixteen some riders decided to stage a sit-down protest at the start, against the dopers in their midst. The day ended with Cofidis joining Astana in withdrawing from the race when Cristian Moreni popped a positive. It also ended with Rasmussen having taken the stage and all but assured his overall victory. A few hours later Rabobank withdrew Rasmussen from the race, claiming the Dane had lied to them about his whereabouts.
Four months later the UCI issued Rasmussen with a written warning concerning incorrect whereabouts information for the period June 21-29. Early in January 2008 that became a recorded warning. The Chicken now had three strikes against him from the UCI and consequently won a two year suspension as the booby prize.
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In The Scapegoat Werner Møller challenges the way the media reported the unfolding scandal during the 2007 Tour and the way ADD and the UCI handled Rasmussen's case. Møller also goes on to look at what happened to Rasmussen afterwards. While Møller makes clear that he is opposed to doping in principle, he plays some interesting games with the interpretation of the anti-doping rules. Games which seem to suggest he believes that riders have a right to exploit any and all loopholes in those rules.
In the current anti-doping orthodoxy - dopers bad, defenders of dopers bad, excusers of doping bad, everyone else good - many people will be only to happy to dismiss Møller as partisan, a Dane defending a Dane. That Møller acknowledges having struck up a sort-of friendship with the Chicken - Rasmussen has provided Møller with copies of his communications with ADD, the UCI and Rabobank, many of which Møller reproduces in The Scapegoat - will only lead many to question the Professor of Sport Studies' impartiality.
Asking anyone to have sympathy for Rasmussen - which, in effect, Møller is asking of us in The Scapegoat - is no easy task. The man has at this stage been thoroughly demonised. Consider Chris Sidwells, in his execrable A Race For Madmen:
"Rasmussen has scary eyes that are capable of looking right through you, but they don't seem to have colour or substance themselves. I've known a number of people like that and they've all been trouble!"
The general consensus on Rasmussen is that he is a liar and a cheat who got his comeuppance: even if the manner in which he was brought down is wrong, the end justifies the means. In the current imperfect anti-doping world, whatever is necessary to bring the cheats to justice is legitimised by the good intentions of the men in the white hats and the bad intentions of the men in black.
But the reality is that some degree of sympathy is due to Rasmussen. Let's consider some of the case made by Møller, starting with the leaking of Rasmussen's Whereabouts problems to the media. The key witnesses for the defence here are ADD's chairman Jens Evald and the UCI's Anne Gripper, and interviews the pair gave to Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in August of 2007, shortly after the Tour was over. Evald makes the following point about the Jesper Worre's comments to DR1:
"It is correct that it is not in the rules that this type of warning should be treated confidentially, but this does not alter the fact that they should really be treated in this manner. As an anti-doping authority you have a general obligation to treat personal information confidentially, and these kind of warnings clearly fall within that category. They are of no public interest, for instance there are no rights of access to these documents."
Evald expanded on this theme:
"In my view it is completely against the WADA code and it could pave the way for unreasonable speculation. In all likelihood organisers of the Tour de France, for instance, may use such information to exclude some riders. Moreover, the rider's achievements may be overshadowed by something that may turn out to be nothing more that the athlete's carelessness. The publication of warnings raises unreasonable suspicions that may be out of proportion."
In the same paper Anne Gripper gave her view on the disclosure of Rasmussen's Whereabouts violations:
"In the UCI we are disappointed that Michael Rasmussen's case became public and find it wrong. I fully understand that it creates a feeling of inequality and a request for all warnings to be made public, but that would be unfair. We have a clear rule, which says that potential doping cases should not be made public, and these warnings are at a level below that. In fact one shall have three warnings before we are dealing with a potential doping case. Therefore we shall of course not make the warnings public."
Møller is clear: Worre breached confidentiality by publicly commenting on the issue. This may seem like a legal nicety to some but consider the role that could be played by Data-Protection Commissioners in various countries when it comes to the Whereabouts system. The basic rule here is that personal information should be protected. Some athletes have threatened to challenge the privacy of Whereabouts information, a challenge which - were it to be successful - would threaten the use of Out-of-Competition testing. Do those who guard this information really need to give their critics ammunition, to endanger their own system?
Møller is also critical of the manner in which the media handled this information. Rather than simply reporting Rasmussen's problems, Møller argues that some attempt should have been made to contextualise the issue. As a for instance, Møller notes that a March 7, 2007, story in Norway's Verdens Gang had disclosed that, in 2006, ADD's Norwegian counterpart, Anti-Doping Norway, had issued 347 written warnings and 135 recorded warnings. In Norway the registered testing pool was about 300 athletes. Of the 135 recorded warnings issued in Norway in 2006, 26 were for second offences.
In Denmark's neighbour then, written warnings were common, recorded warnings far from uncommon and athletes with multiple recorded warnings far from rare. The question then that ought to have been asked was how many of the 189 riders who started the 2007 Tour were in a situation not unlike Rasmussen's and having 'issues' with the whereabouts system? That question was not asked. The only questions being asked were about Rasmussen himself. In the atmosphere that pervaded at the time this is perhaps understandable. But is it excusable?
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Let's cut to the chase here: should Rasmussen have been excluded from the 2007 Tour? Based on his Whereabouts violations, no. Based on the fact that his team knew he'd been playing games with the Whereabouts system, no (Møller reproduces e-mails that prove Rasmussen's Rabobank directeur sportif Theo de Rooj knew that the Dane had filed his Whereabouts information as being Mexico when he was in fact with the team reccying parts of the Tour route). But there is one piece of information that's been held back so far. In 2007 the UCI had a rule on their books that any rider who had a Whereabouts violation in a period of forty-five days before the start of Grand Tour should not start. In his wisdom Pat McQuaid judged this rule unfair and intended repealing it at the UCI's annual congress later in the year. Accordingly, he was of the view that Rasmussen was correctly allowed start the Tour, even though the UCI had issued a recorded warning on June 29. If, as Møller argues, the rules should be followed to their letter, then Rasmussen should not have been allowed start the 2007 Tour de France.
On this point I seem to be in disagreement with Møller. Actually, there's a lot of Møller's argument in The Scapegoat that I personally don't buy into. But as with his The Doping Devil it's a book I'm glad I read. Fact is, I happen to like people like Møller, even when I think they're wrong. And while there's a lot of things I think Møller is wrong on, there's also a lot I think he gets right.
If nothing else, reading books like The Scapegoat tests your own beliefs in the correctness of the manner in which the anti-doping war is currently being waged. If you can come away from The Scapegoat with your beliefs strengthened, well and good. If you can come away from it with some questions that deserve to be asked of the current system, even better. If all The Scapegoat does is make you stop and think - to ask questions and not simply accept the consensus view - then Møller has achieved something. Sometimes, getting people to think for themselves can be the hardest thing to do.
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What happened after Rasmussen had sat on the naughty step for two years? Like Alexandre Vinokourov - who, remember, had actually failed a dope test during the 2007 Tour and not simply racked up multiple Whereabouts violations - the Dane attempted to return to the top tier of the sport. Only to find difficulties placed in his way. The biggest difficulty was that he appeared to be on an unofficial blacklist operated by the UCI.
This unofficial blacklist is one of the difficulties of modern cycling. The fact is, many of us don't actually want to see people like Michael Rasmussen returning to the sport: we have tried them, judged them and decided the sport would be better off without them. Certainly back in 2007, when the anti-doping message didn't seem to be being heeded by the peloton, many of us favoured the idea of lifetime bans being imposed. Hang a couple of the bastards and the message would soon be driven home. In the absence of an official lifetime ban, well wasn't it good that the UCI were willing to take the law into their own hands and close the door on people like Rasmussen through the use of a blacklist?
Were the door to be closed on all people like Rasmussen, then maybe it would be easier to defend that position. But, as the cases of Alexandre Vinokourov, of Ivan Basso, of David Millar all demonstrate, that was clearly not happening. Some guys - like Jörg Jaksche, like Tyler Hamilton and like Rasmussen - found the door closed on them while others had no real difficulty pushing it open. This wasn't necessarily a case of favouritism within Aigle: Astana had the power to bring Vinokourov back, regardless of what the UCI may or may not have wanted. But looking at the way the UCI welcomed Ivan Basso back to the peloton it could be argued that some favouritism was at play.
The UCI of course deny the existence of a blacklist. But do admit that there was then a general policy of discouraging teams from hiring dopers. Møller cites a November 2009 Cycling News story in which Vinokourov claimed that pressure had been put on Astana not to give a ride to Vino's blood-brother Andrey Kasechkin. According to Vinokourov Astana had been warned by McQuaid that, already having one returned doper on their books (Vino) the team would find difficulties placed in their way should they hire another. The CN story confirmed that the UCI did have a policy against dopers returning to the peloton:
"McQuaid today acknowledged that he had warned Astana's management that the recruitment of riders with a doping history could affect the renewal of their ProTour licence, but denied that he had referred to any specific riders during his meeting with Astana officials."
In February 2010 Rasmussen sent an e-mail to McQuaid informing him that he had the possibility of a ride with Astana - Vino had told him the team were keen to sign him - and asked McQuaid to confirm that no obstacles would be placed in the way of this happening (an earlier attempt to return with Ceramica Flamia appeared to have been blocked by the UCI). Having got no reply to that e-mail Rasmussen sent a second message eight days later, in which he insisted McQuaid answer his question. The next day Rasmussen found an e-mail from McQuaid in his inbox, apparently intended for UCI Secretary Gilliane Rappaz but accidently sent to the Dane:
"He insists. This makes me even more want to tell him to Fxxx Off - but give me a couple of words which says the same and gets him off my back.
Antonio Rigozzi, a Swiss lawyer who has acted for several riders in doping cases, had this to say on the issue:
"I have followed Michael Rasmussen's case closely. It is clear that the UCI puts pressure on teams not to sign him. There are no rules in cycling. It is a world where people in small offices decide the riders' future."
This - that people in small offices get to decide riders' futures, regardless of the stated rules - is one of the key themes of The Scapegoat. And this - regardless of what you think of Rasmussen - is why Møller's book really is necessary reading, particularly in today's anti-doping climate. Every few years cycling gets a fresh chance to sort its problems out. We missed the chance after 1998. Some considerable progress was made in 2007 but after the UCI and ASO kissed and made up and ended the ProTour wars in 2008 it could be argued we took a step backwards and lost momentum. With the case against the USADA Six finally drawing to a conclusion we are at that crossroads once more.
Right now we fans of the sport are at the point where we are chanting "What do we want? Change! When do we want it? Now!" But what is that change likely to be? Would a UCI headed by someone like Igor Makarov really be any different to what we have today? Isn't it likely that the UCI would simply once more realise the truth of that line from Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard: if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change?
If we are to have any influence on the nature of the change we want to see and how it is implemented, we need to let people know the detail of the change we want to see being implemented and not just call for change which will change nothing. And this is where we need to learn lessons from cases like Michael Rasmussen's. And this is why books like The Scapegoat should be read. Rasmussen may be no Tyler Hamilton, a prodigal son returned to the fold. But there is as much to be learned from reading The Scapegoat as there is from reading The Secret Race. If, that is, you want to learn and don't just want your prejudices reinforced.
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You'll find an interview with Verner Møller on the Café Bookshelf.