With the Tour de France starting in less than two weeks, talk of the post Tour criteriums has also begun. In Belgium the big question on everyone's lips is whether Tom Boonen, who is unlikely to contest the Tour this year after testing positive for cocaine in an out of competition test, will take part.
The Diksmuide criterium has announced its preliminary start list for the race on July 27. "The idea is that we get the winner of the Tour de France on the start line for our fourth edition," Denis Bolle, a spokesperson for the event, told HLN. "But it doesn't stop there. We also want the green jersey and the winner of the mountains competition."
Boonen has already won the criterium two of the three times it has been run, yet his participation is uncertain. "That is an open question," said Bolle. "If Boonen is granted a start in the Tour then he will be definitely racing with us. The most likely scenario is that Boonen won't depart from Brest and then we just have to wait to see how his programme shapes up as he prepares for the Worlds in Varese. With or without Tom we already have a strong field of riders contracted."
Even the event's poster has some symbolic reference to the troubled Belgian star. An image of an Angel and a Devil take centre stage in the advertisement. The Angel is clad in a green jersey, while the Devil is the infamous German who can be seen each year at the Tour de France.
"Our poster is symbolic in the light of the events of the past weeks," confirmed Bolle. "Young athletes are often elevated to the heavens in praise, but almost nobody will save them for the dangers of the stardom. The pressure and the temptations are great.
"In this view, we as organisers try to understand what Tom Boonen, dual winner of our criterium, has experienced," he added. "We certainly don't want to approve of what he has done, but we refuse to make an example of it. Tom Boonen is just like any other man, he deserves a second chance. It is up to him to erase the mistake he has made."
Diksmuide preliminary start list: Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Carlos Sastre (CSC), Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto), Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), Mark Cavendish (High Road), Erik Zabel (Milram), Andy Schleck (CSC), Fränk Schleck (CSC) and Ricardo Riccò (Saunier Duval - Scott).