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Paris-Roubaix winner and former world champion Tom Boonen has tested positive for cocaine, Het Laatste Nieuws reported on Tuesday.
The newspaper said that the 27-year-old Boonen tested positive for the drug three days before the Tour of Belgium on May 25, although anti-doping officials say the rider will not face suspension since use of the drug is not specifically banned except in competition.
Boonen and his Quick Step squad have scheduled a news conference for Wednesday at the team’s headquarters in Wielsbeke, Belgium, promising “an annoucement regarding the current situation.”
Tour of Switzerland organizers, however, quickly reacted by banning Boonen from their race and demanding an explanation from his team.
“Race director Armin Meier has refused Boonen,” Tour of Switzerland spokesman Kurt Henauer told AFP. He said that the rest of the Quick Step team would be starting the race as planned at Langnau on Saturday.
While the Tour of Switzerland decision reflects that of an individual organizer, Boonen will not face the full force of UCI or WADA sanctions in the case.
“A suspension is foreseen when controls took place during competition but it’s not the case in this affair,” said Tieneke Sonck, a spokesman for the Regional Sports Minster .
That position was confirmed by WADA spokesman Frédéric Donze, who told VeloNews that cocaine is among a class of stimulants whose use is banned only in competition.
“If you look at the 2008 WADA Prohibited List, you will find a category named ‘Substances and Methods Prohibited In-Competition’ (i.e. only in-competition),” he wrote. “Cocaine is in section S. 6 Stimulants. Therefore, cocaine is not prohibited when detected out-of-competition.”
Some may recall the 2002 suspension of German Jan Ullrich, who was banned for six months after a similar out-of-competition test, which showed traces of the drug ecstasy and amphetamine. WADA has only been fully in control of the international banned substances list since 2004 and Ullrich was suspended under the rules of the German Cycling Federation.
“The World Anti-Doping Code came into force on January 1, 2004,” noted Donze, “at the same time as the first annual Prohibited List prepared by WADA and the other International Standard developed by WADA.”
While he might not face cycling-related sanctions, Boonen may well face criminal charges in the matter. Inge Delissen, spokeswoman at the prosecutors office in the Flemish city of Turnhout, said investigators are looking “into the suspected possession of cocaine by Tom Boonen.”
Delissen said police carried out searches but found nothing to incriminate the cyclist.
“On Monday afternoon searches were carried out and lead to a negative result. Tom Boonen was not arrested but he was questioned,” she said.
There was no immediate reaction or statement from Boonen’s Quick Step team, nor was there reaction from Bouygues Telecom, the French team with which Boonen was reportedly in negotiations for a contract in 2009.
The Belgian sprinter was caught up in a drugs scandal in January when Belgian cyclocross star Tom Vanoppen tested positive for cocaine and told investigators that Boonen had provided him with the drug. Following that allegation, police searched the home of Boonen’s parents but found nothing to incriminate him and the case was eventually dropped.
Neither case has prompted the UCI to consider sanctions.
“The UCI will not be requesting that a disciplinary procedure be opened,” UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani told AFP. “We have not been informed of this result but if the information is confirmed as it is an out-of-competition control UCI rules like those of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) do not have any sanctions for (out-of-competition use of) cocaine.”