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Boonen Banned From Tour De France

Jun 21, 2008
Belgium's former world cycling champion, Tom Boonen, has been forced out of this year's Tour de France.

The rider was barred after it was revealed that he had tested positive for cocaine use outside of competition in May.

So drugs are yet again making the headlines of cycling's annual "jewel in the crown" and it hasn't even started. It doesn't get underway until July 5.

There again drugs and cycling seem to be two words that are almost synonymous in a sport that is riddled with doping scandals.

The winners of the last two Tours, Spain's Alberto Contador in 2008 and US rider Floyd Landis in 2007 - have both been at the centre of doping allegations.

Indeed last year's event overall degenerated into what was termed a "Tour de Frauds" with several top riders forced to drop out during the race after failing controls.

Organisers of the Tour seem to make an annual effort to clean up what is considered by many to be the sport's showpiece but clearly face an uphill battle.

Reacting quickly to the news of Boonen's positive test for cocaine, the Tour's general race director Christian Prudhomme said the actions of the rider had brought disgrace upon cycling and the Tour itself.

And he's not kidding. Boonen is yet another high profile rider to make the headlines for the wrong reasons. He was world champion in 2005, took last year's green jersey as the best sprinter on the Tour and just last April won the prestigious Paris-Roubaix race when he beat Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland in a sprint finish.

While Boonen might be out of this year's race his team, Quickstep, will still take part.

It's perhaps it's a little hard to believe that Proudhomme actually thought and apparently still thinks the sport's image hadn't been tarnished almost beyond repair.

News of yet another drugs scandal, albeit outside of competition and therefore under the circumstances not considered performance enhancing, will hardly rock the nation or the sport.

Officially even though cocaine is classed as a stimulant, it's only considered a prohibited substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency if taken during competition.

The Tour's organizers and the sport's governing body, ICU, defend themselves, claiming the very tests they carry out prove how much more of an effort they are making to rid the sport of its shame.

This year's 21-stage Tour de France will get rolling on July 5 from Brest in western France and unusually there will be no prologue. As always it will finish with a route going through the centre of the capital, Paris, passing the Eiffel Tower before a sprint to the end along the world-famous Champs Elysees.

How free from controversy the race will remain when it winds up on July 27 is a matter for conjecture.

And doubtless there'll be a few more drugs headlines to make the news before, during and after the event.
About the Author
Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist specializing in politics, sport and travel. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com
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