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Boonen declares open season with double win

Eddy Merckx congratulates Tom Boonen

Eddy Merckx congratulates Tom Boonen (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Prudhomme pleased for big Belgian

By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has plenty of reason to celebrate with the news of his doping case's dismissal following his first win in 2009 on the Tour of Qatar's Stage 3 yesterday. The Belgian's return to winning without the weight of court cases pleased Qatar and Tour de France race director, Christian Prudhomme.

"I am happy for him to be back; he has paid his price," Prudhomme, Amaury Sport Organisation's cycling director, told Cyclingnews.

Tour de France organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) excluded the 28-year-old sprinter from racing in the 2008 Tour because of a positive out of competition test for cocaine last spring.

A Belgian court ruled Tuesday that Boonen would not face further charges stemming from the positive control. "I heard during the race the good news, that the case is finished," Boonen said. "Yesterday and this morning I was thinking about it."

While use of the drug in an out of competition scenario isn't a sporting violation, Tour de France and Tour de Suisse race organisers declined his participation in their events.

Boonen's win outside the Doha Golf Club was his 15th stage win in the Tour of Qatar history. He took the lead in the overall classification with the win.

"My season really started today. It is always important for me to win a race," he said. "When I don't win everyone immediately will ask why I am not winning."

Prudhomme believes that Boonen's presence in Qatar signals the start to a year marked by fierce sprint battles.

"It was too bad Mark Cavendish did not make a British triple with a sprint win today, but it has been an exciting race anyway," said the Frenchman. "I think that 2009 will be a year for the sprinters. We have so many here, and then there are others like Thor Hushovd and Robbie McEwen.

"I look forward to seeing Boonen and the other sprinters battle in the Tour de France," he added, indicating the Belgian will be welcome back to the French Grand Tour this year.

The Tour of Qatar, the first of ASO's events for this season, ends this Friday. The French organisation's top cycling event, the Tour de France, takes place on July 4 to 26.

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