Troubled Quickstep star Tom Boonen will make an earlier than expected return to racing today at the 65th Gullegem-Koerse in Flanders, Belgium. The race will be Boonen's first since he was suspended by his team following a second out-of-competition positive test for cocaine.
"Tom is racing today," Quickstep team director, Patrick Lefevere told Cyclingnews on Tuesday morning. It had been expected that Boonen would make his return to the peloton at the Dauphiné Libéré later this month.
Boonen will race alongside a strong Quickstep team including Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Stijn Devolder, Kevin De Weert, Kevin Hulsmans, Steven De Jongh, Wouter Weylandt, Maarten Wynants, Kevin Van Impe, Sébastien Rosseler and Jurgen Vandewalle.
"It is not a very big race but if Tom Boonen is there everybody wants to be there," said Lefevere of the Belgian team's line-up.
"Obviously, we are not happy with what has happened," he added, referring to the controversy that has surrounded the three-time Paris-Roubaix champion since his suspension was announced on May 9. The news of Boonen's second out-of-competition positive for cocaine was followed by reports that the star sprinter had returned a third positive result for the drug, in addition to the party drug ecstasy, during an International Cycling Union (UCI) out-of-competition test in November 2007.
"Yes, I think so," said Lefevere when asked whether he felt Boonen had put his ongoing problems behind him and was prepared for a return to competition. The former world champion is following a rehabilitation programme to put an end to his party drug use.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme announced earlier this month that there was no chance Boonen would be allowed to start when the race begins in Monaco in five weeks time. Lefevere also confirmed that he had received no response from Tour de France organisers Amaury Sport Organisation after his requests that the ban on Boonen's participation be overturned. The team manager is considering taking legal action if the French race organiser refuses to welcome Boonen in the event.