Quick Step yet to decide on Boonen participation in Tour

"It wouldn't be intelligent to act hastily"

A decision has yet to be taken on whether Belgian rider Tom Boonen will be allowed to start next month's Tour de France following his positive test for cocaine, Patrick Lefévère manager of his Quick Step cycling team said on Wednesday.

"The team maintains its confidence (in Boonen) ... it wouldn't be intelligent to act hastily," said Lefévère, who was seated beside Boonen during a press conference at Quick Step's headquarters at Wielsbeke, western Flanders.

"I spoke by telephone with (Tour de France director) Christian Prudhomme on Monday. I will be in contact with him again shortly. I'm also going to have discussions with other organisers," Lefévère said.

Lefévère meanwhile stressed the difference between "real doping problems" which have occurred in the Tour in recent years, and the difficulties of a "private" nature of their riding star.

Questioned on the good conduct charter signed by all teams participating in the Tour, Lefévère said he believed that it was sometimes a little "heavy", without saying whether he thought it applied or not to Boonen's case.

The charter stipulates that each team participating in the Tour gives their commitment not to field a rider who could damage the image of the race.

In a statement read at the start of the press conference former world champion Boonen apologised for the pain caused to his team and his family.

"I'm not going to defend myself here today but I hurt my family, my friends and my team and I apologise," said Boonen, who has been barred from competing in the Tour of Switzerland starting on Saturday.

"I've been in the news recently in a negative way. I'm not perfect and I'll accept the consequences. I'm now going to get some rest and I can count on the confidence of my team. I hope that the fans will continue to support me. They will soon be able to count on my unreserved commitment," he added.

Paris-Roubaix winner Boonen tested positive during an out-of-competition control by the ministry of the Flemish Community on May 26. Police carried out searches but found nothing to incriminate the cyclist. The Flemish Community, in charge of doping controls in the north of the country, said they will not be taking any action against Boonen, nor will he face International Cycling Union (UCI) sanctions.

"If the information is confirmed as it is an out-of-competition control UCI rules like those of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) do not provide for any sanctions for cocaine," a UCI spokesman said on Tuesday.

But under Belgian law Boonen could face between three months and five years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 euros (155,000 dollars) for using cocaine.

The 27-year-old Belgian sprinter was caught up in a drug-taking scandal in December when cyclo-cross champion Tom Vannoppen said after he had tested positive for cocaine that Boonen had provided him with the drugs.

Boonen has been touted as among the favourites for the top sprinter's green jersey in the Tour de France, which starts from Brest on July 5 and ends in Paris on July 27.

© AFP 2008

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