Boonen allowed to start 2009 Tour

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), has just announced that Belgian Tom Boonen will be allowed to start this year’s Tour de France.

Tour de France organiser Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) had previously said Boonen, winner of this year’s Paris-Roubaix classic, would not be welcome at the Tour after he tested positive for cocaine in an out-of-competition test this April. But at today’s press conference, where the UCI and French Anti-Doping Authority are presenting the anti-doping measures to be carried out during this year’s race, they said the Belgian could ride.

“His cocaine positive is not an anti-doping offence,” UCI president Pat McQuaid said. “But I stand by my statement that he has damaged the image of the sport.”

“Boonen needs to go before a disciplinary commission but there’s not time for that to take place before July,” McQuaid said.

Boonen was kept out of the 2008 Tour after testing positive for the same drug last spring. Although ASO had no legal grounds for keeping Boonen out – cocaine is not a banned substance when tested for out-of-competition – his Quick Step team acquiesed, understanding the damage his presence could do to the race.

This year the team was not about to lose out on the publicity, good or bad, that Boonen could bring them during July, and said they would fight any action to exclude Boonen.

Since his second positive test, Boonen has admitted he has a drink problem and put in place a rehabilitation programme. He will also be investigated by a UCI disciplinary committee for bringing the sport in to disrepute.

The 2009 Tour de France starts in Monaco on Saturday, July 4.

Valverde’s ban in Italy to be extended?

McQuaid took the opportunity during the press conference to comment on a range of doping issues currently affecting professional cycling.

On the case of Alejandro Valverde – the Spanish rider recently banned by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) from competing in Italy for two years – McQuaid said: “Valverde cannot race in Italy. The Tour de France goes into Italy, so it’s up to ASO [whether he rides]. Of course, CAS could overturn the decision.”

Asked whether the UCI will extend the ban, McQuaid commented “The UCI is still waiting for the documents and reasoning from CONI. We were told we’d have it within 30 days. Tomorrow, June 11, is the 30th day.”

“When we get it, our lawyers will study it and if they can show confidence in the case and show that it was carried out according to the WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] code it is highly likely we will globalise the two year suspension.”

Kohl asked to help in anti-doping fight

In a recent interview with French sports paper L’Equipe, suspended Austrian rider Bernhard Kohl made some cutting comments regarding the effectiveness of the UCI’s biological passport anti-doping control. Kohl tested positive for CERA (EPO) during last year’s Tour de France.

Kohl said that the biological passport had actually helped him evade dope testers by setting a target for his blood values. He also said that he thought that most of the riders in last year’s Tour top ten had doped.

McQuaid revealed that the UCI has written to the former Gerolsteiner rider, inviting him to their headquarters in Switzerland to assist in their anti-doping effort.

“I await his response, and see what he can provide us with,” said McQuaid. “Some of the points in the L’Equipe article I would not accept, if I was Carlos Sastre and Christian Vande Velde and some of the others in the top ten I would be very angry.”

“What the Kohl case shows is that we have to continue the fight, and if the need be we’ll double our efforts.”

“I can assure you that we’re not stepping down from this, I believe in the biological passport.”