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Tour de France

Boonen gets green light

Tom Boonen was granted an eleventh-hour reprieve, allowing him to compete in the Tour de France when it starts on Saturday, Tour organizers confirmed on Friday. The reigning Belgian national champion had been barred from the Tour following a positive test for cocaine in April, but the French Olympic Committee's arbitration panel upheld his appeal against the ban. The Quick Step rider missed last year's Tour after testing positive for cocaine for the first time. Tour organizers acknowledged the decision in a statement issued soon after the ruling was made.

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Tour accepts ruling, hopes for the best

Boonen, who won last Sunday's Belgian national championships, will be allowed to ride in the Tour de France.

Boonen, who won last Sunday’s Belgian national championships, will be allowed to ride in the Tour de France.

Photo: Agence France Presse

Tom Boonen was granted an eleventh-hour reprieve, allowing him to compete in the Tour de France when it starts on Saturday, Tour organizers confirmed on Friday.

The reigning Belgian national champion had been barred from the Tour following a positive test for cocaine in April, but the French Olympic Committee’s arbitration panel upheld his appeal against the ban.

The Quick Step rider missed last year’s Tour after testing positive for cocaine for the first time.

Tour organizers acknowledged the decision in a statement issued soon after the ruling was made.

“After the decision announced by the CAS on Friday, Tom Boonen will be at the start of the 2009 Tour de France,” the Tour organization noted in a statement. “The Tour’s management believes that, considering the great champion that Tom is, he will relish the oportunity that has been given to him and he will have an exemplary attitude during the event.”

By riding the Tour, the former world champion becomes one of the favorites to take the green jersey, the points competition he won in 2007, the last time he competed in the race.

Cocaine, although illegal, is not considered a performance-enhancing drug unless consumed within two days of a sporting event. Boonen’s tests were not carried out in connection with a race.

Nonetheless, Boonen’s positive test for cocaine on April 25 triggered an uproar in Belgium, where the 2005 world champion and one-day race specialist has rock star status.

Despite the furor, Boonen’s Quick Step team soon rallied behind the three-time Paris-Roubaix winner and even threatened to sue Tour organisers if they did not allow him to race. The team’s first effort, however, fell flat after a French civil court ruled it lacked jurisdiction to act on the appeal.

Attorneys then sought the expedited handling of an emergency appeal to the French Olympic Committee. The committee’s arbitration panel issued its decision on Friday.

“We can confirm the ruling by the French Olympic Committee, and that Tom Boonen will start the Tour de France on Saturday,” a team spokesman told AFP.

The last-minute ruling also means there will be no place on the Quick Step roster for Allan Davis, the Australian sprinter whose inclusion this year depended on the Boonen decision.

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