News travels fast and in many mysterious ways here at the Tour de France.
So it proved this morning when I spied my old Dutch pal Leon de Kort bustling purposefully out of Monaco’s Forum Grimaldi and immediately sensed the distant rumble of breaking sensation. “Asshole!” I screamed, employing the term of endearment that is our mutual form of address; “Boonen!” came the reply from 200 metres away.
That was all he really needed to say: I knew that he knew I’d got the message about Tom Boonen’s cocaine reprieve, and he knew that I knew that he knew that I knew.
Boonen’s reinstatement confirmed what I’ve suspected for days about this Monaco Grand Départ. What do Michael Rasmussen, Alexandre Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin, Davide Rebellin, Philippe Gilbert, Gert Steegmans, Simon Gerrans, Matthew Goss, Baden Cooke and Wesley Sulzberger all have in common?
That’s right, they all live in Monaco, and for reasons ranging from Rasmussen’s on-demand attacks of dementia to Gerrans’s selection snub, none are competing here in Monte Carlo this weekend. Not only that, but could it be purely coincidence that Boonen recently moved out of the Principality and has suddenly, unexpectedly found himself back on the starting grid? No doubt it is …though I rather like the notion of a Monaco curse.
There are, it’s true, four men who could kip in their own bed tonight and not have to cross any borders on their way to the start ramp tomorrow. Step forward Mark Renshaw, Filippo Pozzato, Stuart O’Grady and Thor Hushovd. As for Boonen, I have rather mixed feelings.
Mark cavendish giving his best ‘zoolander’ glance at daniel friebe.: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Columbia sprint sensation Mark Cavendish, flashing his best ‘Zoolander Blue Steele’ gaze at Friebe
Earlier today I asked Mark Cavendish if he had a view on whether a rider who tests positive for recreational drugs should still be allowed to start the Tour.
“Only Boonen knows how serious his issues are.”
“It’s irrelevant. I’m here to ride my bike,” was Cav’s reply. He was more eloquent on the impact that Boonen’s late inclusion will have on sprint finishes: “It’s good for us because his team will be keener to give us some help now…”
While not explicitly condemning the decision to let Boonen ride, Cavendish’s team boss, Bob Stapleton, said the Belgian must urgently address his “problems”.
“It’s not a huge surprise,” Stapleton commented at his team’s press powwow in the Forum Gimaldi. “When the UCI said that [a positive cocaine test] wasn’t a sanctionable offence, that cleared the way. I just hope he gets the help he needs. That’s the biggest issue. He really has some problems…”
As I said, my feelings are mixed. On one hand, there are many lines of work in which lines of coke are tolerated to the point of normalcy. On the other hand, in the vast majority of professions, the proven use of Class A drugs is a sackable offence. While that really ought to have been the case with Boonen, this is QuickStep and Patrick Lefévère we’re talking about.
Tom boonen (r) speaks as his quickstep manager patrick lefevere looks on during a press conference at meridien beach plaza hotel in monaco on july 3, 2009.: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images
QuickStep team boss Patrick Lefévère with Boonen in Monaco July 3, 2009
You’ll have to forgive me, but, to my mind, Lefévère’s and QuickStep’s willingness to indulge their superstar has little to do with providing the kind of “help” mentioned by Bob Stapleton and everything to do with business.
Only Boonen knows how serious his issues are. Only he knows whether they’re now “in the past”, as he told the press on Friday afternoon. He said the same thing to my colleague Ellis Bacon six months ago and we all know what happened shortly afterwards.
If his really were just isolated lapses, I can see why he’d be keen to move on with his career and race tomorrow. If not, he should be elsewhere attending to far more important matters for no-one’s sake but his own.