By Andrew Hood
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) returned to the spotlight for the right reasons Friday after blazing to victory in the 170km fourth stage at the Ster Elektrotoer in Holland.
The Belgian classics star made headlines earlier this month after he tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition test that forced him out of next month’s Tour de France, but he decided to keep racing rather than retreat from increasing media pressure.
“My head wasn’t in the race the first few days. I could barely pedal, but now I am feeling better. I’ve learned a lot of new things about myself and about cycling’s world and I have understand that a lot of people support me,” Boonen said. “The decision that I took together with my team to return immediately to racing was the right choice. I’m really satisfied.”
Boonen, 27, tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition test May 26, just two days before the start of the Tour of Belgium.
He won’t face sanctions because cocaine is only considered a performance-enhancing drug during competition, but he was eventually barred from scheduled starts at the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France in the aftermath.
Quick Step management stood by their troubled star, however, and announced its confidence in Boonen. Rather than imposing some sort of internal sanction, Quick Step officials encouraged Boonen to continue racing rather than risk falling into some sort of funk.
Boonen lined up for the five-day Ster Elektrotoer with little fanfare and refused to talk to journalists.
Quiet earlier in the five-day stage around southern Holland and eastern Belgium, Boonen came back to life in the circuit course starting and finishing in Nuth.
Originally, Boonen was trying to set up teammate Wouter Weylandt for the sprint, but he took his eighth win on the 2008 season instead.
“My objective was to put Weylandt in the best position to make his sprint. I started to pull at 400 meters from the finish line as fast as possible to launch the sprint,” Boonen explained. “When I saw that Wouter wasn’t able to come around me, I went straight ahead to the finish.”
The race concludes Saturday with another flat course ideally suited for a mass sprint.