ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
The Tour de France is on the verge of turning into the Tour de Farce. Another day, another scandal. The cyclist who has been leading the Tour is now out. Michael Rasmussen was fired by his team, Rabobank, today and taken out of the race. That news follows the withdrawal of two major teams from the Tour after their riders failed drug tests.
Eleanor Beardsley joins us now from Paris. And Eleanor, why did Rabobank fire Rasmussen.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Well, they fired him because they said he had lied to the team. He was - he did not report his whereabouts before the Tour for typical drug testing. But there was a huge cloud of suspicion hanging over him for the last week because last week, his national team, the Danish team, also fired him for the same reason. So since then, everyone has been looking at him, thinking he must have failed some drug test. And today, he came in across the finish line with no one around him and he stood up on the podium. You know, he still got the yellow jersey. And some people even booed. So there's been a lot of suspicion surrounding his first place lead.
NORRIS: He's under a cloud of suspicion, but for now, it's not reported that he's actually failed the drug test. Is that correct?
BEARDSLEY: No, he hasn't actually failed one, but it looked like he tried just a little too hard to avoid taking them.
NORRIS: Now, since he was in the lead, he was the man wearing the yellow jersey. Who's going to wear that jersey now?
BEARDSLEY: Well, it's actually a young rider, a Spanish rider named Alberto Contador, who surprisingly enough, is riding for the Discovery Channel. That's Lance Armstrong's old team. He's about three minutes behind Rasmussen, but now, he's going to take the yellow jersey.
NORRIS: Now, bring us up to speed. What happened to these other riders who were also booted out of the race?
BEARDSLEY: Well, it's almost hard to keep up with. Television commentators are saying the Tour has been decapitated. It's falling apart. Let's see. It was just a few hours ago that an Italian rider was met at the finish line by French police, who took him away for questioning. That was some really startling footage to see that. And then, so his - he was thrown off the team because he had elevated testosterone levels and his team, a French team, Cofidis, had to quit. And yesterday, star rider Alexander Vinokourov also failed a drug test. It found - they found out that he had given himself a blood transfusion so he was expelled, as was his team.
NORRIS: The Tour is scheduled to finish up on Sunday. Are they going to stick to that schedule?
BEARDSLEY: Yes. I believe so. I'm waiting for the latest fallout. We're getting late newscast about Michael Rasmussen and it's going to be on the front of all the newspapers tomorrow. But earlier, when there was just - we were just reeling from two people being expelled, they were saying everything is going forward, the testing is working, you know, because there are a lot of doubts now. They're talking about should we stop the Tour and fix it. And their leaders are saying, no, these tests are working. So they're going to go ahead as usual, but I bet there will be some confusion tomorrow at the starting point of the 17th stage.
NORRIS: This is a huge event in France, and a big tourist attraction. What's the reaction there?
BEARDSLEY: Yeah. It is a huge event. The reaction to this is still to come. I think people are going to be shocked. It's the first time a yellow jersey winner has been thrown out of the race. But people, you know, they're saying, has anyone ever won the Tour without being doped? Now, they're doubting. But, you know, at the same time, it's more than just a cycling race here. It's a national treasure. It's, you know, summertime wouldn't be summertime without the Tour. People plan their vacations around it. They go see stages. So the crowds are still turning out. Yet, now, people are following less, the times. They're following who's going to be the next one to be kicked out. So now, everyone is just waiting, holding their breath.
NORRIS: Thank you, Eleanor.
BEARDSLEY: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was Eleanor Beardsley, speaking to us from Paris.