Boonen: I have a problem
The Belgian-based Quick Step team has suspended Tom Boonen after learning that the three-time Paris-Roubaix winner has tested positive for cocaine for the second time in a year.
Boonen, who recently claimed his third victory in the prestigious “hell of the North,” is alleged to have tested positive two weeks after that race, on April 24 or 25.
News of the test positive led prosecutors to order a raid on Boonen’s home, confirmation of which was given by top public prosecutor Jan Poels to the Sudpresse daily newspaper group and the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper.
In a statement issued Saturday morning, the team announced a decision to suspend Boonen, pending an investigation.
“Team Quick Step announces that Tom Boonen has been suspended from all competitive activity effective immediately,” the statement noted. “The staff is working closely with team sponsors and will continue to update the situation during the weekend evaluating eventual further action.”
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. 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.”
Earlier in the day, Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere said he had spoken to Boonen, and suggested that the Belgian star’s future with the team 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 in 2003, told Sporza.
Boonen, one of the biggest cycling stars of the past decade, last year caused a storm when a positive test for cocaine in May led to him being left off his team’s Tour de France roster at the behest of race organizers.
On that occasion he escaped a sporting ban because it was not an official random doping test. Cocaine, considered by sports authorities to be a recreational substance, is not forbidden outside of official competition.
However if news of this latest test is fully confirmed, Boonen risks missing the three-week Tour de France in July for the second year in a row.
Moreover, Boonen now faces the real risk of criminal charges having escaped any such punishment last year after prosecutors decided he had paid for his crimes through what amounted to a very public humiliation. The possession of cocaine in Belgium could carry penalties of between three months and five years in prison and fines of 1000 to 100,000 Euros.
Boonen’s lawyer, Luc Deleu, told Sporza television channel that he feared the worst of outcomes for his 28-year-old client.
“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, 28, was crowned world champion in 2005. As well as winning notable races like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, he also won the Tour de France’s green jersey in 2007.
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,” Van Damme said.