The mood in Montpellier blackened this morning as the media scrum that descended on Michael Rasmussen threatened to make the Tour de France a farce.
Yesterday the Danish cycling federation announced that Rasmussen would not be eligible for selection for the World Championships or Olympic Games because he had missed out-of-competition dope tests and failed to inform the testing authorities where he would be when he was training in Mexico.
After witnessing the chaos and steadily blackening moods in Montpellier this morning it seems that whoever wears the yellow jersey is going to be subject to scrutiny. In Rasmussen’s case he appears to have given the press pack some ammunition.
More than 300 journalists, television crews and photographers began running towards the Rabobank bus as soon as it arrived in Montpellier. There were tape recorders, camera lenses, boom mikes on ten-foot long poles and photographers standing on benches and litter bins to get a better view.
When Rasmussen emerged, he looked pale and, frankly, frightened, but he spoke eloquently to explain that it had all been a misunderstanding.
The Dane said: “I know that other riders in the peloton have been given warnings for not giving their whereabouts to the UCI. I am one out of many it’s just that I happen to be wearing the yellow jersey right now,” said Rasmussen.
“This is blown a little bit out of proportion. It’s a matter of misinformation. I can confirm that I have no positive doping tests and that’s it. I have been tested out of competition during the month of June and those were negative.
“I certainly do want to continue in the Tour de France. I know that ASO have been in contact with Theo De Rooy of the Rabobank team and I have full support from ASO and I am starting with the yellow jersey today.
“I have done nothing wrong, which they also recognise. I will take responsibility for having mis-communicated my whereabouts to the UCI and I have been given a warning.”
Rasmussen went back inside the bus and the scrum loosened. At least two photographers emerged with cut noses.
The chaos escalated when Rasmussen eventually came out to sign on. He had to be escorted by a ring of police officers all the way. The crowd’s muted applause suggested many did not realise it was the maillot jaune passing.
Presumably having missed the news from the Danish federation, some looked bemused at Rasmussen’s elevation to superstar status.
But this was not a commotion sparked by popularity or celebrity. It was the pack scenting the whiff of scandal.
Rasmussen signed on, waved to the crowd and, for a moment, looked relieved to be out of the centre of the storm.
But it got worse when he returned. Police started pushing photographers and cameramen, who were forced to step backwards into the path of other riders coming to sign on. The riders shoved them back and, for a moment, it threatened to get ugly.
Then the police shepherded Rasmussen towards the start line.
Many riders were laughing at the chaos, probably not realising the circus that had enveloped them. Marcus Fothen, angry that the press continued to hound his fellow professional, squirted water from his Gerolsteiner bottle over the press pack, then hurled his bidon in their general direction.
It hit Rasmussen on the head, completing the farce.
Yesterday?s stage winner Robbie Hunter said: “We just want to ride our bikes and do some good performances but all we get is this bullshit story.”
Bullshit story or not it’s going to follow Rasmussen while he has the yellow
One moment stuck in the mind. As the Rasmussen storm made its way through the town square, Iban Mayo, rolling back the other way towards the team coaches, was forced to stop next to the barrier. The baffled look on his face said it all: If that’s what wearing the yellow jersey means, perhaps I won’t attack in the Pyrenees.
Rasmussen clear to carry on in Tour