Michael Rasmussen — the Danish climbing specialist who was forced out of the 2007 Tour de France after being tripped up on whereabouts questions — makes a subdued debut to racing this week in Argentina’s Tour de San Luís with the modest Italian Miche Silver Cross team.
Now 35, Rasmussen was hoping for a warmer welcome in his return to the pro ranks following his controversial two-year racing ban last summer, but said he’s found top teams cautious about signing him.
“I had hoped to return to a higher level than this, but there is so much hypocrisy in cycling now, it was not possible,” Rasmussen told the Danish daily Politiken. “I hope to return to the ProTour, but I know many teams don’t want to touch me because of my ongoing troubles with the UCI.”
Rasmussen says his refusal to pay a penalty to the UCI has created hurdles in his search for a new team. Rasmussen joined other riders before the start of the 2007 Tour in signing a pledge that required the payment of one year’s salary if they were caught up in a doping probe.
“I had a very clear understanding that many sport directors wanted me on their team,” Rasmussen said. “But they simply do not dare employ me because of my relationship with the UCI has not yet been completely clarified, even though I have served my ban.”
Rasmussen infamously ran afoul with authorities while wearing the yellow jersey in the 2007 Tour de France.
Questions about his whereabouts in the weeks and months before the start of the Tour and his availability for out-of-competition testing reached a breaking point just days from Paris.
The former mountain bike world champion all but had the Tour sewn up when Rabobank fired him, in part from pressure from media and race officials about the prospect of an ongoing scandal.
Rasmussen never tested positive, but the inconsistencies in his version of events leading up to the Tour led many to doubt his credibility. The Monaco cycling federation handed down a two-year ban, which ended last summer.
After missing out on a hoped for opportunity to race the Vuelta a España with a small Spanish team, Rasmussen finally competed in the Vuelta a Chihuahua, where he won the opening prologue and wore the race leader’s jersey for two days before settling on sixth overall.
Throughout the winter, Rasmussen was in contact with several European-based teams, but fell short of securing a contract with a top team that would allow him back into the most important races.
Rasmussen will join his Miche continental team teammates for the Tour de San Luís, which begins Monday and runs through Jan. 24.