Rasmussen blows whistle on a decade of dope
With a baggy grey suit and a open-collared white shirt covering his emaciated torso, Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen, looking pale, stressed and every bit the extra from Danny Boyle's Trainspotting, delivered the sport's latest bombshell: in 12 years as a professional, he had never been to Mexico.
Throughout his chequered career – from his time at CSC back in 2001 right through to his modest comeback with Miche and Christina Watches – Rasmussen told the world in a prepared statement: "I used EPO, growth hormone, testosterone, DHEA, insulin, IGF-1 and cortisone, and did blood transfusions."
Flanked by his existing team sponsors, Christina and Claus Hembo of Christina Watches-Onafone (clearly eager to steal back some of the limelight from fellow timepiece performance enhancers Festina), Rasmussen said he had told Danish authorities all the details of his doping past before bringing an end to a cycling career that yielded four stages wins on the Tour de France, two polka dot jerseys and one highly controversial stint in yellow.
"When I stand up today, I will be a relieved man," said Rasmussen much to the concern of all people present inside the news room.
"I am glad that I no longer have to sit and lie to you today, as I have done for so many years. I know I cheated and I cheated other riders. I'll accept my punishment," concluded the 38-year-old from Tølløse.
That punishment – at least initially – is thought to be a reduced two-year ban in return for full cooperation with anti-doping authorities. It means the rider known as 'The Chicken' will, regrettably, be unable to put in an appearance at Floyd Landis's Gran Fondo event in the Catskill Mountains north of New York this June.
Rasmussen's list of lies to cover for his doping misdemeanours is almost as long as one of his trademark long mountain breaks. Topping his most fervent fibs was his ongoing assertion to have been training in Mexico in June 2007, when in fact he was spotted by Davide Cassani, an Italian retired pro rider, training in the rain in the Italian Dolomites.
"This is the story of a man who believes he recognized me. There is not a hint of evidence. I have done nothing. It's completely crazy," said Rasmussen after he was suspended by his Rabobank team and ejected from the 2007 Tour while wearing the leader's yellow jersey just four days away from Paris.
(Rasmussen, incidentally, held a 3:10 gap on GC over Alberto Contador, the only other rider who could keep up with his miraculous surges in the mountains. Contador, then riding for Discovery and himself far from being a paradigm of cleanliness, eventually won the race by 23 seconds over Cadel Evans who, in this light, was perhaps the rider Rasmussen most clearly "cheated" during his career).
Following his dismissal, Rasmussen called his Rabobank team-manager "mad", claiming that Theo de Rooij "was a desperate man on the verge of a nervous breakdown".
Months later, an Utrecht judge ruled that while Rabobank has been entitled to dismiss Rasmussen, the team had followed the wrong procedure. They were asked to pay their former rider over half a million pounds – or two months salary plus the bonus he would have received had he won the Tour.
Rasmussen also managed to weave his family into his intricate web of lies. During the 2007 Tour controversy, he got his parents-in-law to confirm to a Danish newspaper that he had been paying them a visit during the time he was supposedly in Mexico.
In November 2011, Rasmussen finally admitted he had lied about the situation to avoid a conflict with his Mexican wife. "It's that my wife would like to think I was in Mexico," he said, before insinuating that he was having an affair with another women. "I was in Italy, but I did not stay at home. It gave me some peace to find a way out."
Following Thursday's press conference, Rasmussen gave a 20-minute one-on-one interview with hard-hitting sports journalist Morten Ankerdal – a man who once famously missed his sister's wedding in favour of covering the Danish Open badminton championships.
It couldn't have been more different from Lance Armstrong's fandango with Oprah, with Ankerdal probing deep to quiz The Chicken about his early days as a mountain biker and his motivations behind more than a decade of dope.
Rasmussen, however, refused to drag anyone else (most notably former manager and fellow Dane Bjarne Riis) through the dirt – stressing that the public would have to wait until they found out about more about his disclosures. (His agreement with Danish authorities means he is not allowed to reveal any of the nitty-gritty as yet.)
But Rasmussen, who worryingly never failed a drugs test during his professional career, promised to the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf that he had made "a full disclosure of the facts".
"Nowhere have I spoken half truths," he said. "I also spoke about other riders, coaches who helped and where the products came from. I indicated that I would fully cooperate and I have kept that promise."
It's fair to say, Riis – not to mention Contador and the whole of the Saxo Bank set-up – probably didn't get the best night's sleep on Thursday.
So, what next for Michael Rasmussen now that he cannot ride for Christina Watches?
Well, he showed remarkable dexterity on the dance floor in a recent Danish celebrity dancing show on TV; a role as a junkie in the Danish crime series The Killing would have been perfect – but there is to be no fourth series; perhaps he could audition for the role of lanky detective Harry Hole in the film adaptations of Jo Nesbo's hit police whodunnit novels?
Famous for counting each grain of rice before eating and taking water – not milk – with his breakfast cereal, Rasmussen is unlikely to be called on to host Danish Masterchef. (Saddles always thought it odd that a man so fixated with his weight – a man who would peel unnecessary stickers off his bike merely to shed a few milligrams – would nevertheless insist on growing a moustache and goatee. It's a mystery that will no doubt forever go unanswered.)
For the time being, however, it looks like Rasmussen's immediate future will be a bit more prosaic. Although suspended from any cycling-related activity within the team, Christina Watches are said to be offering the Dane a role within their sales team – after all, Rasmussen's sense of timing is impeccable.
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Talking of life after doping, it was recently revealed that the rights to New York Times journalist Juliet Macur's forthcoming book about Lance Armstrong (entitled 'Cycle of Lies') have been purchased by Paramount Pictures.
In a recent awards ceremony in Manchester, the actor Bradley Cooper – star of The Hangover, Bending All The Rules, Yes Man and Limitless – seemed to suggest that he would be interested in taking on the role of the disgraced former Iron Kids triathlete.
Cooper, one of Hollywood's most screen-tested actors, has since been getting into character by profusely denying his involvement in the project.
Elsewhere, Frank Schleck accepted his own one-year backdated suspension for a banned diuretic begrudgingly but with an air of inevitability. Unable to compete until mid-July, Schleck will focus on making a return in the Vuelta. In the mean time, he is said to be keen on concentrating on his side-project – a band called Muse, for which he sings and plays guitar under the alias 'Matt Bellamy'.
In his defence, Schleck at least didn't join the obvious bandwagon and claim his bidon was spiked with Xipamide by Johan Bruyneel.