By Jean-François Quénet in Vienne, France
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) will not be allowed to start the Tour de Suisse, race organisers announced Tuesday. The decision follows the Belgian sprinter's positive anti-doping control for cocaine on May 25 and could see the entire team thrown out of the Suisse event, in addition to placing a question mark over Boonen's Tour de France start.
"We want to make a point and emphasise that we will not put up with any rider who behaves that way," Tour director Armin Meier said. "It doesn't matter to us whether it is a world star or any other rider."
The Suisse race organiser also asked the management of the Belgian Quick Step team for its position on Boonen's situation. It requested an answer by noon, Thursday, which is also the deadline for the teams to submit their final line-ups. If the team does not comply with that request, the Tour organisers said that they could decide to exclude the entire team from the race.
Boonen will not be suspended by the UCI for his positive cocaine test. The use of cocaine outside of competition does not carry a sanction and as the test was carried out two days before a race, Boonen has escaped a sanction according to the UCI.
"The UCI will not ask for a disciplinary procedure to be opened," a spokesperson for the UCI explained to Sport Wereld. "The rule for the UCI is the same as that of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA). There is no sanction for cocaine when talking about an out of competition control."
The deadline for a control outside competition to be handled is one day for an ordinary race and three days before a major Tour such as the Tour, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España.
The Belgian Cycling Federation confirmed that they would also not be sanctioning Boonen for the altercation. "That's what the rules state," said President Laurent De Backer to Sporza.
The Boonen issue puts Tour de France organiser ASO in a similar situation to last year with Michael Rasmussen. In the absence of a ban by an authority it only has its power to threaten the teams and sponsors, but is hopeful the team will take the decision to withdraw Boonen by itself.
Tour delegate director Gilbert Ysern was the one who called Rabobank during last year's Tour de France and convinced the Dutch bank to take its rider out of the race. After hearing the news about Boonen's positive case for cocaine, Ysern said the Tour wouldn't follow the Tour de Suisse's lead.
"We're not going to act like our colleagues from the Tour de Suisse," he said. "We will wait and see which position Boonen and his team will take. We'll see if he admits the facts, if he asks for a counter analysis, or if he steps down for the next few weeks."
Following the news of Boonen's test it's understandable that ASO doesn't want Boonen to defend his green jersey this year. But ASO hopes the Paris-Roubaix winner will be sidelined by his employer, rather than it being forced to take preventive measures.
Hushovd disappointed by Boonen positive
Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), the 2006 Tour de France green jersey winner, was disappointed to learn of the news that sprint rival Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has tested positive in an anti-doping control for cocaine. The Norwegian said the news puts further emphasis on the sport's need to turn around.
"My first reaction was that it was a sad news for the sport of cycling," said Hushovd. "Our sport is in a difficult moment now, not only in Belgium. If Tom doesn't follow the rules he has to face the consequences, but it's probably too early to tell that he will not ride the Tour de France. Who will decide that?"
Hushovd, who is currently leading the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, would have more chances to win the points classification at the Tour de France if Boonen is forced to stay at home. Hushovd said however that getting rid of the competition isn't the answer.
"I didn't think of that," Hushovd said. "The problem isn't to get rid of Boonen. It's a larger problem for the sport of cycling. I'd like to race against all my adversaries at the Tour de France.
"I like sprinting against Boonen," he added. "I'd prefer him to have no problem with drugs and race. I don't know him out of the races, so I cannot comment on him much more."
The Crédit Agricole rider currently leads the French race by one second over Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).
Bouygues Telecom ends Boonen negotiations
French ProTour team Bouygues Telecom had shown interest in signing Tom Boonen for the 2009 season, however the team has called an immediate end to discussions. The squad said its policy is clear and that it will not employ a rider who has tested positive for cocaine, as Boonen did in a May 25 test which was revealed yesterday.
"Red card, end of the negotiations," team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau said. "We have a very strict policy in our team. Anybody who's got problems with drugs isn't welcome in our team. If the news regarding Boonen is confirmed, there's no way he can join us."
Boonen's contract with Quick Step ends at the end of this year and the rider known as Tornado Tom has been put on the market by his agent Paul de Geyter. Bouygues Telecom was very interested in recruiting the Paris-Roubaix winner, with its French mobile phone network backer in the process of expanding throughout Europe in association with T-Mobile. The addition of one of Belgium's favourite sons would have given the company a good marketing platform to work off in Belgium.
Bouygues Telecom recently extended their contract with the Vendée based team for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere on the other hand is struggling to secure new sponsors in Belgium. News that Boonen might be joining a French team was likely to wake up the potential sponsors in Belgium, should they be willing to keep the prodigy at a Belgian squad.