If outrage or incomprehension was your reaction to news of Tom Boonen's positive test for cocaine, then you get the situation better than he does. To be fair, a cyclist of Boonen's stature in Belgium is a rock star, which is a sort of demi-god, and like other figures of mythical status can generally get away with acts that would be criminal by mortal standards. Think Apollo.
A Belgian King of the Classics. Yes, he's supposed to drive a Porsche. And yes, he's supposed to get stopped for speeding; he's a bike racer! But cocaine? That rock star comment was supposed to be metaphoric. Oops.
The situation seems no different than when Jan Ullrich was caught for taking ecstasy. It seems likely it was a "just this once" sort of mistake. Only Boonen had Ullrich's example to show what can go wrong. Imagine yourself in a club and you're the most popular guy there. I know, but try to imagine it. You're going to be offered everything in that club. Everything. There are at least a few of those things to which, as one of the world's great bike racers, you need to have the cojones to say , "No."
The problem here is that cycling is in such a tenuous state of credibility that the only way this situation could be worse was if Boonen had been riding for a team such as High Road, CSC or Slipstream that has taken great public steps to demonstrate it's riders are clean.
Drunk driving would be understandable; irresponsible, but understandable. Alcohol is an acceptable (at minimum) part of a meal. A fourth (or fifth) glass of wine or beer before getting in the car is a mistake that some folks make. But cocaine comes with the taint of party boy, which implies a different sort of recklessness. And because cocaine is a stimulant par excellence, if you didn't think, "Boy, I could make my bike go a million kilometers per hour on this stuff," we'd have to question your sanity, not your judgement. And there's the rub. For the bike racer, anything that can be construed as a drug ought to be seen as off-limits.
Perhaps Tom didn't get the memo. The memo came from the viewing audience. It was brief. It said, "Don't embarrass our sport anymore."
Under other circumstances, his apology would have been acceptable, applaudable even. He said, "Lately, my name has appeared several times in the news in a negative manner. I realise that with this I have hurt my family, my friends, my team and my fans. I wish to apologise for that. But I am not perfect. I will accept the consequences. You will understand that in spite of everything that has been written, rightfully or wrongly, I am not here to defend my conduct."
That wasn't good enough. Frankly, it smacks of Johann Museeuw's apology for not being "100 percent honest" during his days as a racer. Now, more than ever, we need someone caught red-handed to step up and say, "Yes, I did (insert name of drug here), and I apologize. I don't know what I was thinking."
Don't let the fact that his team is standing behind him obscure the gravity of the situation. Lefevre can be credibly accused of being one of the better architects of systemic doping in the peloton. To expect exemplary leadership from him is like asking a fifth grader to teach calculus; it's not fair because he just doesn't get it.
Which, is exactly Tornado Tom's problem. He can't possibly be seeing the issue through our eyes, otherwise such a gaff would never have occurred. And now that we have a clear illustration that his view of the "doping problem" isn't our view of the "doping problem" it calls into question his judgement as a whole. It hurts, because he's one of the last guys in the peloton we wanted this from.
Now we are faced with the ugly question of wondering what else Boonen may find acceptable on a "just this once" basis.
Photo courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International