Tom Boonen returned to racing yesterday by leading out teammate Wouter Weylandt to victory in the Gullegem Koerse. Weylandt won a sprint against Stefan Van Dijk and Roy Sentjens, after Boonen wore out the opposition by driving the pace up in the last 3km. Prior to his return to the road from a team-imposed one-month suspension for apparent cocaine use, Boonen has been in France training with teammates for the Tour and mending bridges in the team, according to a puff piece at Sporza.
To be determined, of course, is his start at the Tour. All that's known so far is that Boonen has been told to forget about it by Christian Prudhomme, and his team has threatened legal action if the Tour folks stick to their word. Boonen says they are talking to ASO in efforts to avoid a suit. I am highly skeptical that this will get anywhere, but you never know. Boonen's case isn't uncharted waters -- they did this dance a year ago -- but there is no reason the Tour can't accept him.
For now, Boonen plans to start the Dauphine Libere Saturday. This is a bit curious, since the next biggest name sprinter at the Dauphine is maybe Julien El Fares. Meanwhile, the Tour de Suisse (which Quick Step is contesting) features Cavendish, Bennati, Freire, Breschel and between two and four sprint stages (depending on how early climbs play out). But if Boonen needs to climb Mont Ventoux to get back in shape, more power to him.
If Boonen isn't at the Tour, I will be a bit sad, but the lustre is off the Boonen-Cavendish "rivalry" these days, and we can all take refuge in a Cav-Freire-Benna battle instead. [And even that list is probably shorthand for a more involved green jersey battle.] But, well, the party-drug suspensions are a bit overblown, so I'll hope to see him in July regardless. It's the Tour, and unless you're sure someone shouldn't be there, you'd like to see all the biggest stars on hand.