It has been a summer of scandal for the Tour de France and though the world-renowned cycling race entered its final stretch on Thursday, drama continues to follow closely behind.

On Wednesday night, favoured winner Michael Rasmussen was fired as team leader by the Danish Rabobank team. His squad accused him of lying and breaking team rules.

Rasmussen was subject to random drug tests but he said he was in Mexico at the time the tests were to be administered. But an eyewitness saw the athlete in Italy.

Rasmussen has spoken to media since the incident, telling the Associated Press that he is drug-free.

"Of course I'm clean,'' Rasmussen said. "I mean, all I can say is that by now I had my test number 17 on this Tour and all of those have come back negative. I don't feel I can do any more than that."

Tour director Christian Prudhomme told the Associated Press he couldn't be sure Rasmussen had cheated but that "his flippancy and his lies on his whereabouts had become unbearable."

Rasmussen told one Dutch newspaper his career is now "ruined".

"I have no idea what I should do or where I will go,'' he told the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. "This is an enormous blow for me, and also for all the guys from the Rabo team. They're devastated."

Devastated or not, the team is continuing in the race and took the start on Thursday.

The Discovery Channel team, led by Alberto Contador of Spain, now takes the lead. Australian Cadel Evans, representing the Predictor-Lotto team, moves into second place. American cyclist Levi Leipheimer, also with Discovery, is now in third place.

Others suspended for allegedly doping

Though this latest scandal is now behind this year's Tour de France, the race continues under a cloud of controversy.

French media have called for the organization to do a major clean-up, after two other team leaders were suspended from the race for suspicions of doping.

After the tour's London start on July 7, it was discovered that German cyclist Patrick Sinkewitz failed a drug test while he was training before the tour began.

Alexandre Vinokourov, who was first favoured to win, was suspended after testing positive for a banned blood transfusion. The team he represented, the Swiss Astana Cycling Team, was forced to bow out with the news.

Then, the Confidis team announced it would withdraw after its Italian rider, Cristian Moreni failed a drug test. He subsequently waived his right for a follow-up test to confirm the results of the first one.

Moreni's hotel room was raided for evidence of drugs. The results are expected to be released Thursday.

Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, told CTV Newsnet better testing is needed with the Tour de France athletes. He also suggested a summit on the issue might shed light on the situation.

But despite the drug charges, Reuters reporter Julien Pretot told CTV Newsnet the suspensions only prove the Tour de France is far from being the Tour de Farce.

"The war against doping is making progress," he said Thursday. "Organizers believe they are on the right way. The fact that you have these positive tests means that you're looking for cheats. The more you find, the better it is for the future of cycling."

The race is still reeling from charges against last year's winner, Floyd Landis, for being under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs. Landis is currently fighting the charges in court.

Before him, seven-time winner Lance Armstrong also faced numerous allegations of doping. None of them had ever been proven.

Dan Dakin, a reporter with Pedal magazine said although the scandals are "devastating," he agreed only good things could come out of it.

"If anything, hopefully this means it will lead to a clean peloton and a clean group of riders," he told CTV Newsnet. "In order to reach a good thing you have to go through bad things sometimes and I believe that's what's happening now."

There's no arguing the sport needs to be cleaned up, he added. He called the current situation "embarrassing".

"At this point now there's starting to be sponsors involved and sponsors pulling out and cycling has no choice but to look at itself and say we have to clean this sport or else it just can't survive," he said.

"It's really bad regardless of what good may come of this, it's just not good," he continued. "Its devastating to fans, devastating to other cyclists and to be honest, it's a little bit embarrassing for people who are involved in the sport."

Dakin pointed out riders who race with the Tour are subject to more drug tests than any other sport. Nonetheless, only a dozen or so riders are tested after each stage, he said, even though about 200 people race in the competition.

"That might be an issue right there."

Pretot said the Tour's firm hand with suspected dopers are putting the fans and riders at ease.

"This was supposed to be the year it was going to restore its reputation after last year's scandal with Floyd Landis and past allegations with Lance Armstrong," Pretot said. "(Because of recent charges) there is a sense of relief from the race. The riders are more confident and happy."

With a report from Associated Press