Boonen's cocaine use thrown into confusion

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) warms up ahead of the time trial.

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) warms up ahead of the time trial. (Image credit: Elmar Krings)

Following further analysis of Tom Boonen's hair  samples, expert toxicologists have said that he used only a small amount of cocaine this spring. The Quick Step rider tested positive for a third time  in an out of competition for the drug in April, less than 12 months after he tested positive the first time in May 2008.

Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere decided to conduct drug tests on Boonen's hair after the third positive was revealed, according to L'Equipe.  "Tom told us that he hadn't taken anything. We wanted to be absolutely sure," said Lefevere, who asked university professors Pascal Kintz in Strasbourg, France, and Jan Tytgat in Leuven, Belgium, to conduct the analysis.

Both experts found traces of the drug in the hair samples of Boonen, a three-time Paris-Roubaix winner, but said that they were only very small amounts.

Kintz found 0,09 ng/mg, while "we speak of a positive result when it exceeds 0.5 nanogrammes per milligramme. One thing is certain: he was exposed to very small quantities and is not a chronic user," he said. Kintz concluded that the Belgian sprinter might not have actually snorted the drug, but that his contact with the substance could have been coincidental – by a contaminated drink, a handshake or particles of cocaine in the air.

But Tytgat did not quite agree. "To me, it is very unlikely that cocaine traces in the hair can be a result of a handshake or particles in the air. If there are hair traces, then there has been a direct contact," he told Het Laatste Nieuws.

Tytgat did not exclude that Boonen could have taken in small amounts of the substance by means of a drink. "It is possible not to have snorted, but still show minimal traces, for example via a drink. But you cannot examine that," he told another Belgian newspaper, Het Nieuwsblad.

The new expertise comes with only two weeks to go to the Tour de France. Lefevere insists that Boonen has a right to participate, as he is not suspended by the International Cycling Union (UCI), but race organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) is reluctant to let him take the start.

The UCI is expected to take a stance on the case soon, but Lefevere has already indicated that he will take legal action if ASO decides not to let Boonen participate. (HK)

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