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Twice is no accident, part 2

What is it with professional cyclists?

Last week, I posted about cyclist Stefan Schumacher‘s second positive test for the blood-booster Cera. While there is no excuse for even one positive test, in Schumacher’s case he had already provided his second sample (at the Beijing Olympics) for the previously undetectable drug before he became aware of his first positive result, which came from tests conducted at the Tour de France mere weeks earlier.

Obviously, ignorance that the authorities have caught up with the cheats is neither defence nor mitigation in Schumacher’s case, nor should it ever be. But at least no one can accuse Schumacher of being so stupid that he continued to dope knowing that he had already been caught once.

The case of Tom Boonen, elite sprinter, 2005 World Road Race champion and arguably Belgium’s most celebrated current sportsperson, is somewhat different.

In the past couple of hours, it has been confirmed that Boonen has, out-of-competition, tested positive for cocaine – for the second time in less than 12 months. His first positive test, in May of last year, resulted in him missing the Tour de France despite avoiding official sanctions from either cycling’s governing body, the UCI, or the World Anti-Doping Authority (as the test was out-of-competition).

To be caught once and escape relatively lightly is one thing. To be caught a second time borders on insane stupidity.

At this stage, it is unclear what, if any, action Boonen’s Quick Step team or the UCI will take against him. Certainly ASO, the organisers of the Tour de France, who have been particularly proactive in trying to clean up the event’s tarnished image, are likely to take a dim view if Quick Step are seen as taking insufficient measures. They could potentially exclude the team from the 2009 race, as they did to the Astana team of then-defending yellow jersey Alberto Contador last year, meaning Boonen would be excluded for the second year in a row.

If Tom Boonen is banned from the sport’s highest profile event – and I would say the probability of this happening is extremely high – it is the least punishment he deserves. He had received a clear warning shot across his bows already; if this second missile holes him below the water-line he has no one else to blame but himself.

EDIT: Quick Step have now announced that they have suspended Boonen from all cycling activities until further notice. (It’s difficult to see how they could have done anything else.) The team stood by him after his first offence last year, but you have to assume that, if nothing else, there will be considerable pressure from key sponsors to sack him now. Neither the UCI nor ASO have made any statement yet, but there is also the possibility that criminal charges will be brought against Boonen. No charges were raised after last year’s incident, but a second offence will surely be looked upon less leniently.

No matter what, it seems Tom Boonen is in deep trouble, and there will be a lot of people gunning for him. I’m finding it hard to have any sympathy for him.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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