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Quick Step's Tom Boonen says counselling for his excessive drinking has progressed well. Talking with a counsellor "really helps" he said on the Dutch TV programme Holland Sport this week. Team manager Patrick Lefevere has attributed Boonen's problems to his competitive spirit and is confident that the rider will overcome the problems.
"He has to learn his limits," Lefevere told Cyclingnews. "Sportspeople have competition in them. They like to win on the bike, they like to win when they play cards and they like to win when they drink."
Boonen himself told Holland Sport that he has already taken steps to curb his consumption. "In the recent weeks I've had a lot of time to do other things than cycling. If I go out, then I have no need to drink heavily. You always just keep in control," said the former World Champion.
Boonen, 29, tested positive for cocaine in April, two weeks after winning Paris-Roubaix for the third time. It was his second positive for cocaine in two years. A third, previously unreported, positive test from November 2007, was also announced this year.
The Quick Step rider blamed his positive doping controls on his drinking; indicating that he drank so much that he did not know what later happened. "I was very drunk. I do not know what happened, but the next day I tested positive for cocaine," he said.
Boonen escaped sanction from the International Cycling Union (UCI) and World anti-doping agency (WADA), as cocaine use is not prohibited when used out of competition. However, he was suspended by his team after the positive control was announced in the spring, and he did not ride from April 12 to June 7. Quick Step later accepted Boonen's explanation that his positive test had come as a result of contact with other cocaine users, rather than direct ingestion of the drug.
"Hair samples proved that there was no cocaine in his system for more than four months," said Lefevere. "The amount of cocaine present [at the time of his positive test] was enough to say that there was someone with him who was using it, and he came close to those people."
Boonen had been barred from the Tour de France in 2008 due to his previous positive doping control, and had to go to court this year to force his start in the race. He abandoned the race after stage 14.
Lefevere repeated Boonen's assertion that control is the key. "He has only to understand that when he is drinking he has to know when to stop. Because, [if you go past this point,] you may blackout and not remember where you were or what you did."
There is only so much that the team can do, the manager noted, saying that most of the responsibility lies with the individual. "The thing that the team needs to do is encourage the rider to learn the lessons and realise what is the point of no return."
Boonen recorded seven wins this season, with four of those coming before his suspension. In 2010, Lefevere anticipates that Boonen will return to his usual high level of performance. "He was one of the strongest riders at the start of the season and at the end of the season, there is no reason for me not to think that he will not be strong next year."
While no specific plans have been made for the coming season, "I see no reason to change is programme next year. He is 29-years-old now; he has the experience and knows what he needs to do to be prepared for races."
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