Belgium’s top cyclist Tom Boonen faces being axed from the Tour de France for the second consecutive year, criminal charges and being sacked from his team after a second positive test for cocaine.
News of Boonen’s second positive test in a year for the drug was confirmed by the public prosecutor’s office Saturday after widespread coverage in the Belgian media.
Quick Step rider Boonen, who recently claimed a third victory in the prestigious Paris-Roubaix one-day classic, tested positive two weeks after that race, on April 24 or 25.
Speaking on Belgian TV show Sporza on Saturday night, the 2005 world champion admitted that he had a problem.
“The night before the drug test, I went out,” he said. “I stayed for a while and I drank. At some stage I must have taken something. Then I had a blackout. I think I have a problem. After spending three to four months working, when I go out I probably over-step the mark and I become someone else.
“For 364 days a year, it’s perfect,” Boonen added. “I try to be an exemplary citizen. But the day that I drink too much, something that I don’t do often, I change. I will now seek help.”
Stunned team manager Patrick Lefevere has spoken to Boonen, and he hinted that the Belgian star’s future was now hanging in the balance.
“I really don’t know what to say. I’m certainly not at home dancing around my living room: I’m very disappointed,” Lefevere, who signed Boonen from Lance Armstrong’s US Postal team in 2003, told Sporza.
“But I will make no official comment until speaking to the sponsors of the team. I will wait for the situation to cool down before making any decisions.”
Quick Step subsequently announced Boonen was suspended from racing.
Boonen also tested positive for the recreational drug in May last year and although he managed to escape criminal charges he paid in sporting terms by missing the Tour de France – one of his biggest goals of the season.
At the behest of race organisers who were worried about the negative impact Boonen’s presence might have on the 2008 race, Quick Step promptly pulled the Belgian star off their race roster.
News of his latest positive test led prosecutors on Friday to order a raid on Boonen’s home. No details have been released, but the possession of cocaine in Belgium carries a punishment of between three months and five years in prison and a fines of 1,000 to 100,000 euros.
Boonen has since faced questioning and despite the unlikelihood of a sporting ban – cocaine is not forbidden outside of official competition by the sports authorities – he is now likely to face criminal charges. He avoided criminal charges last year only on the condition there would be no repeat of similar incidents inside three years.
Boonen’s lawyer, Luc Deleu, told Sporza television channel that he feared the worst of outcomes for the 28-year-old Belgian.
“In legal terms this test is a problem because it has effectively violated the terms of last year’s ruling which virtually suspended any kind of sentence. The consequences could be disastrous,” Deleu said.
“For him personally, the problem is just as significant. His image is tainted. He risks missing the Tour (de France) again. I spoke to him yesterday (Friday) and he’s at his very lowest.”
Boonen is one of the biggest cycling stars of the past decade and was in such demand in Belgium that he fled the country to live in Monaco several years ago. He only recently returned home.
As well as winning notable races like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, Boonen has also won the Tour de France green jersey, for the sprinters’ points competition, in 2007.
That was one of his main goals of this season, however the rest of Boonen’s season – if not his career – now seems seriously compromised.
Belgian federation (LVB) chief Tom Van Damme said the news was a slap in the face for Quick Step, Belgium’s biggest cycling team.
“If he was racing with any other team, he would have been thrown out already,” he said.
© 2009 AFP & BikeRadar