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Michael Rasmussen (Christina Watches) says that he was “robbed” of the 2007 Tour de France and told journalists this week at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina that he remains bitter about what happened in that Tour.
Rasmussen says he’s still fuming about what happened in 2007, when Rabobank kicked him off the team while wearing the yellow jersey with just days left before arriving in Paris in what looked to be a sure victory.
“They committed one of the biggest injustices in sport history with me,” Rasmussen told El Diario Vasco. “I was robbed. According to the rules at the time, they had no reason to take me out of the Tour. The rules that are in place today are different. They applied to me rules that were introduced in January 2009.”
Rasmussen, now 37, was dogged by questions of his whereabouts in the weeks and months ahead of that year’s Tour. He was eventually handed down a two-year racing ban by the Monaco cycling federation.
The former world mountain bike champion insists he did nothing wrong and remains upset and bitter that he’s been forced to the sidelines of the sport he once dominated, at least in the high-altitude mountain climbs.
“It’s something I cannot change. I still have an open case against Rabobank. I know I will never win the Tour, but there was a time when I thought I could race it again.”
“Is all forgotten? I have an open wound and it could be another 30 to 40 years to completely forgot what happened, but I might not be alive by then!” Rasmussen continued. “I am still looking for the justification of what they did to me. I have carried on with my life, but I have a case against Rabobank in the Supreme Court of Holland on the 25 of May. I won the first hearing.”
Rasmussen said he’s asking for 600,000 euros from his former team, but Het Nieuwsblat reported that sum could be as high as 5.6 million euros.
Second chance with Christina Watches
Rasmussen says it’s hard to watch as other banned riders such as Ivan Basso and Alejandro Valverde are welcomed back to the sport while many within the sport have ostracized him.
After serving his ban, he’s only been able to find small, low-level teams who were interested in signing the controversial rider. An effort to return to Bjarne Riis in 2010 was eventually scuttled when Riis checked out how the reaction would be to Rasmussen’s return.
“I was speaking with Riis for three or four months. He wanted me, but he was sincere and said, ‘Michael, I have to get the approval from various people,’” he said. “Some of these people told him not to sign me.”
Rasmussen’s quandary caught the attention of Danish watch company, Christina Watches, which has signed him to a five-year deal starting last year to give him a second chance at racing.
So far, the continental team has not received invitations to race in the top-tier events, but Rasmussen remains optimistic the team can reach pro-continental status, perhaps as soon as next season, and open the door to more prestigious races.
“When they take nearly everything away from your life and then you get a second chance, you can dream again, it’s a special feeling,” he said. “My encounter with Christina Watches has changed my life, they gave a second opportunity. I can do what I love doing, which is cycling. And that’s why we’ve given a second chance to Stefan Schumacher (another controversial rider signed by the team this year – ed.)”
Face-to-face with Contador again
The Tour de San Luis marks the first race that Rasmussen and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) are back in the same peloton.
It was Contador — who is still facing a possible two-year ban in his long-running clenbuterol case dating back to the 2010 Tour — who ended up winning the 2007 Tour following Rasmussen’s controversial exit.
Rasmussen said he’s spoken a few times to Contador, but refused to say what the pair talked about.
“We’ve spoken a little bit. I saw him once in Denmark, another time in Italy and once in Cancun, but I cannot say what I said to him,” he said. “I have nothing (against him). Now he is the strongest rider at the moment, and five years ago at the Tour, I was the strongest.”
Speaking of Contador, Rasmussen acknowledged that the Spanish climber is the rider of reference right now in the peloton, but admitted he’d like to get back to the sport’s biggest events.
For the San Luis tour, neither Contador nor Rasmussen admit they’re in top shape to fight for the overall for the 2012 season debut.
“A lot of time has passed (since 2007). Contador is the best rider right now and I am nearly 38 years old,” he said. “For me, it’s more important that someone from the team can win a stage, something for the sponsor, and I will do what I can. My career won’t change if I win a stage at the Vuelta a San Luis. It would be different if it were the Giro or Tour. Now the most important thing is the team.”