Boonen Banned From Tour De France

by : Johnny Summerton

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 has not even started. It does not 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 is 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 is 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 is only considered a prohibited substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency if taken during competition.

The Tour's organisers 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. Unusually there will be no prologue, but in keeping with tradition the race will wind its way around the country before ending up in the nation's Capital, Paris, on July 27. There it'll be a race to the end passing the Eiffel Tower before a last sprint up the world famous Champs Elysees to cross the finish line.

Of course whether it will be free from further unwelcome revelations is a matter of conjecture, but it is a fair bet that drugs will in some way be making the headlines yet again before, during and probably after the event.