By Jean-François Quénet in Saint-Paul-en-Jarez
Tom Boonen knew that his participation to the 2008 Tour de France was in doubt after the news of his positive test for cocaine broke. He and his Quick Step team hoped some time after the news would enable Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) to give Boonen consideration and allow him to participate in the Tour de France, but their approach didn't work.
ASO would have liked the Belgian team to decide to leave Boonen at home in July. However, the team's different decision forced the organization to ban the winner of Paris-Roubaix from the July Grand Tour. "We had to wait for their press conference," Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme explained. Decision makers in Paris and the Belgian rider and his team managers communicated by phone. "We wanted to hear Tom Boonen, Patrick Lefevere and Wilfried Peeters. We have told them it was not possible for Tom to ride the Tour de France this year."
However, ASO is not considering last year's green jersey winner as a doping cheat. "We are not confronted with a doping case," Prudhomme said about ASO's outlook. "He didn't take forbidden substances in order to win races. It's a private affair. But Boonen is a great and emblematic champion. He has to behave in an irreproachable way."
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Quick Step team said, "The team is sorry to have not been able to meet the representatives of ASO before the decision was taken, considering that the result of the test undergone by Boonen won't have any consequence on a professional and sporting level."
Obviously, the Belgian camp would have liked to negotiate with ASO, but that option was out of question for the French organization. "Lefevere told us July 5th [the date of the start of the Tour de France in Brest - ed.] was still far away but with three weeks to go, the link is obvious. We have to get rid of the permanent suspicion. In reference to the contract signed between us and the participating teams, we have to preserve the image and the integrity of the Tour de France and the riders who will be lined up," Prudhomme said.
"Boonen was humble in the way he said he went off track," the Tour de France director said. "This incident reflects what happens in our society. Similar problems have affected so many champions from different sports." Prudhomme indicated he has no intention of banning Boonen beyond the 2008 Tour de France. "Anybody can make mistakes," he said.