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Belgian federation chief furious at the UCI for pursuing penalties against Tom Boonen

By Agence France Presse

Belgian cycling federation president Laurent De Backer has hit out at the president of world cycling, Pat McQuaid, following the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) decision to sanction Tom Boonen.

Belgian star Boonen, who recently claimed a third victory in the prestigious Paris-Roubaix one-day classic, tested positive for cocaine in April — less than a year after he first tested positive for the drug, in May 2008.

Already set to miss the Tour de France for a second successive year, and now facing criminal charges at home, Boonen’s hugely successful cycling career is teetering on the brink as he prepares for a series of therapy sessions.

It was believed the 2005 world champion would not be punished by the sport’s authorities because cocaine does not feature on the list of cycling’s banned substances for out-of-competition periods.

However on Tuesday the UCI said Boonen’s actions had brought the sport into disrepute and threatened him with a ban ranging from one to six months.

According to Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper Thursday, De Backer was quick to contact UCI chief McQuaid to vent his indignation at the decision.

“Instead of trying to help a man who is in difficulty, the UCI has decided to kick him when he is down,” said De Backer in the report.

The UCI statement said: “Following the control … on the Belgian rider Tom Boonen, which revealed the use of cocaine, the UCI President Pat McQuaid has decided to refer the matter to the UCI Disciplinary Commission.

“The behavior of Tom Boonen, even though it does not constitute a violation of the anti-doping rules, can be considered unacceptable (Art.1.2.079) and liable to harm the image, reputation or interests of cycling or the UCI (Art. 12.1.005).

“This infringement is punishable by a suspension of 1-6 months.”

Boonen has since been suspended by his Quick Step team, who have nonetheless committed to getting the career of the 28-year-old, one of biggest names in the sport in the past five years, back on the rails.

Boonen’s manager Paul De Geyter was also furious with the UCI’s decision.

“Will I list the names of those who have blackened the sport of cycling in recent years, without the UCI taking the slightest action against them? There’s rules for some and rules for others,” he said.

The organizers of the Tour de France confirmed Tuesday that Boonen would not be welcome in this year’s race.

Race chief Christian Prudhomme said Boonen had to focus on getting his life back together before thinking about getting back on his bike.

“It’s obviously impossible for Tom Boonen to start the Tour,” Prudhomme told AFP.

“The most important thing for him, as it was said, particularly by his team, is to look after himself and to think about his future as a person, rather than thinking about sport.”

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