By Andrew Hood
Quick Step is sticking with its troubled star, Tom Boonen, and so are the team’s key sponsors.
Just a day after it was revealed that Boonen tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition control taken last month, his Belgian team announced Wednesday that its most important sponsors have extended their contracts through the 2011 season.
Despite the growing Boonen scandal, sponsors Quick Step and Latexco-Innergetic announced they were extending their contracts with the team for the 2009-2011 seasons. Bike sponsor, Specialized, and clothing sponsor, Vermac, also indicated they were staying with the team, officials said.
Team management also strongly backed Boonen as he faces the media, legal and athletic fallout of his failed test.
“Both sponsors and team have faith in Tom – we’ve had some of our most significant moments in the team’s history with Tom,” said Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere. “It is not a habit of ours to abandon our athletes. Tom is going through a difficult personal moment at present. We’ll be letting time pass by a little and then we’ll start working again for the future.”
All deals with the team’s existing sponsors were already in the works when the Boonen story hit the front pages Tuesday.
“This press conference was originally planned for tomorrow. In light of the events involving Tom, we decided to bring the press conference forward,” Lefevere said Wednesday in Belgium. “Our sponsors, Quick Step, Innergetic, Specialized and Vermarc, will be alongside the team for the next three years as well as Tom Boonen.
The team’s sponsorship contracts were scheduled to end at the completion of the 2008 season and some wondered if the negative publicity surrounding Boonen’s high-profile case would torpedo any contract talks.
It turns out that quite the opposite is true. Officials from title sponsor Quick Step, a Belgian flooring company, said it was considering Boonen’s cocaine case a personal problem and didn’t consider it a doping offense.
“Tom is and remains a great champion, for this reason we have great faith in him for the future. Things would have been very different if it was a doping problem,” said Quick Step CEO Frans de Cock. “What happened is a personal and private matter. As far as we are concerned, we are proud to continue our sponsorship. We are and remain the biggest sporting sponsors in Belgium.”
With strong support from his team and sponsors, Boonen will now decide what to do next as he sorts the implications of the failed test.
While his positive prompted Tour of Switzerland organizers to bar Boonen from their race, he is not likely to face any general cycling-related sanctions because cocaine is among a class of drugs whose use is only banned during competition. Boonen, who tested positive in an out-of-competition test, could still face criminal penalties. Under Belgian law, Boonen could face between three months and five years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 euros (155,000 dollars) for using cocaine.