Belgian cyclist Tom Boonen of the QuickStep team has been banned from competing in the 2009 Tour de France, following his second positive drug test for cocaine, Tour organisers ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) announced on Thursday.
The 28-year-old tested positive for cocaine in April, less than a year after he first tested positive for the drug in May 2008.
"In the wake of Tom Boonen's recent drug test, which followed a previous positive test in 2008, the Tour de France, having spoken to representatives from his QuickStep team, can only note that the image and the behaviour of Tom Boonen are incompatible with the image of the Tour de France and the image that such an exceptional champion should try to display," ASO said in a statement.
"In these circumstances and in order to preserve his reputation, his image and those of the Tour de France, the ASO group has decided not to accept the presence of Tom Boonen in its event."
ASO also revealed that Boonen and QuickStep have the right to appeal.
However, there was some good news for Boonen as the sport's governing body the International Cycling Union (UCI) announced they would be taking no disciplinary action against him for the positive cocaine test.
"Finally, the UCI Management Committee has decided not to institute disciplinary proceedings against Mr Tom Boonen for having allegedly taken cocaine out of competition, after the Belgian rider supplied a number of elements in his defence," read a statement from the UCI.
The QuickStep rider won the 2005 world road race championship and several major one-day classics like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. He also won the coveted Tour de France sprinter's green jersey in 2007.
Boonen's team have backed him and previously promised to provide legal support if he was refused entry to the Tour.
The UCI said earlier this month it would not be able to complete any disciplinary process before the July 4 - 26 race, meaning that Boonen, "according to the regulations" would be free to race.
"The sporting and economic damage for team and sponsors (which would arise from) the absence of Tom in the biggest race of the year are incalculable," said QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere.
Lefevere had threatened to demand millions of euros in compensation if his rider was excluded.
The president of the Belgian Cycling Federation (LVB), Laurent De Backer, said the ASO's decision was "regrettable".
"Tom Boonen is accused of having taken cocaine but outside competition," De Backer told the news agency Belga. "ASO is the boss of its own competition but from a purely sporting perspective it strikes me as inconceivable to prevent a rider from taking part.
"Apparently at ASO they mix the sporting and the legal aspects of this case," he added. "Personally I expected another outcome. It's regrettable for Belgian cycling."
© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar