French newspapers reacted with despair and surprise on Thursday to the news that Tour de France race leader Michael Rasmussen had withdrawn from the competition, the third scandal to hit the event in 48 hours.
The 33-year-old cyclist was dropped from the Danish national team and later left the Tour on Wednesday after being sacked by his team, Rabobank.
His departure followed pre-race favourite Alexandre Vinokourov dropping out after blood doping allegations and Italian rider Cristian Moreni leaving because of hormone-use allegations. Mr Vinokourov and Mr Moreni’s teams, Astana and Cofidis respectively, also pulled out of the Tour.
“Death of the Tour,“ declared Libération. Renaud Dély, in an editorial, called for this year’s event to be cancelled and announced that the paper would stop publishing the Tour’s standings. They were planning to cover only the ensuing medical and legal proceedings, he wrote.
This response was echoed by other national newspapers. France Soir’s front page carried an avis de décès [death notice] for the race. Le Monde joined in, lamenting the “chaos” that has left this year’s competition “a field of ruins”. And, for Le Figaro, “Le temps de la repentance doit sonner” [The time to repent is nigh].
As the Tour, which ends on Sunday, began its 17th stage without a yellow jersey holder, there was widespread consensus that serious changes are needed if cycling is to repair its reputation. Christian Prudhomme, Tour director, told L’Équipe that Rabobank’s decision to drop Mr Rasmussen was the best thing that had happened in the past eight days.
”There must be a revolution,” Mr Prudhomme said.