July 03, 2009

Belgian cyclist Tom Boonen was cleared Friday to compete in the Tour de France after winning his appeal of a ban for testing positive for cocaine

The French Olympic committee's arbitration panel handed down the decision a day before the Tour is set to start in Monaco.

"Obviously, I'm happy. I didn't have much time to think about the race, but I'll try to give my best," Boonen said at a press conference. "I haven't looked at the road book yet, so I'm going to mark the stages where I can do something. It will be a real challenge."

Boonen appealed to French sports authorities for permission to ride in the three-week race after a court said it didn't have jurisdiction in the case.

Tour organizers ASO had sought to ban Boonen by saying the Belgian had damaged the race's image after testing positive in an out-of-competition test in April.

Cocaine is not banned during out-of-competition periods, and the International Cycling Union (UCI) decided not to take action against the rider.

"The management of the Tour de France believes that, considering the great champion that Tom Boonen is, he will relish the opportunity that has been given to him and that he will have an exemplary attitude during the event," Tour organizers said in a statement.

Boonen's Quick Step team welcomed the ruling, but regretted that a decision came so late.

"I'm relieved but I'm sorry that we had to go up to here," said team manager Patrick Lefevere. "This is not the ideal scenario. Pressure has been huge, not only on Tom Boonen's shoulders, but on the whole team."

Boonen, one of the world's best sprinters and one-day classic riders, resumed cycling last month -- including the Dauphine Libere stage race.

In 2007, Boonen won the green jersey awarded to the Tour's best sprinter. He has already proved his form this season by winning Paris-Roubaix for a third time.

Boonen, who has won six stages on the Tour, will replace Australian Allan Davis in the Quick Step team.

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