Update: French prosecutor opens preliminary investigation into doping allegations at Bahrain Victorious
Cyclingnews can confirm that Bahrain Victorious were raided by the French police at the Tour de France on Wednesday evening. The team confirmed the news directly to Cyclingnews on Thursday morning.
“Nothing special, we have a visit from the police, they ask for riders training files, they check bus and that’s it,” team boss Milan Erzen told Cyclingnews.
“They disturb riders for one hour and at the end, they said thank you. They didn’t tell us what’s the reason of the visit, but we will found this out today through lawyers.”
Bahrain Victorious confirmed to Cyclingnews they would continue in the Tour de France and line-up in Pau for the final mountain stage 18 to Luz Arididen.
“Of course, why not, we will defend our positions,” they said.
The team also confirmed that rider and staff hotels were searched and that no arrests were made. Movistar were also at the same hotel in Pau but they were not visited by the authorities.
Cyclingnews has been informed by one source that up to 50 police officers were on the scene with Reuters later stating that ‘dozens’ of officers were present until 2 a.m. local time.
Possessing, using, and selling doping products are all criminal offenses in France. However L’Equipe reported that while objects and information was seized, nobody was placed under formal investigation.
Following Erzen’s confirmation, the team made a formal announcement on their website.
“Following stage 17, we were greeted by several French police officers. We were not given a warrant to read through, but the team complied with all the officers’ requests,” technical director Vladimir Miholjević said.
“We are committed to the highest level of professionalism and adherence to all regulatory requirements and will always be cooperating in a professional manner. The process had impacted our riders recovery and meal planning and as a professional team, the well-being of our team is a key priority.” Last month Bahrain Victorious general manager Milan Eržen defended the team in the face of anonymous doping accusations that surfaced in the French media.
According to a report in Le Parisien, two individuals, including one team boss, raised concerns over Bahrain Victorious’ recent performances both at the Giro d’Italia and the Critérium du Dauphiné. They both refrained from going on the record, and admitted that they had no proof to back up the allegations or suspicions, but they nevertheless raised doubts over the team’s credibility.
The accusations surfaced after the team delivered some stellar results, with Damiano Caruso, who has forged a career as a solid mountain domestique, achieving his best-ever result in the Giro d’Italia with a second place finish. There were also three stage wins from the team at the Critérium du Dauphiné with Mark Padun putting in two surprise performances to win back-to-back mountain stages at the race. Padun was not selected for the Tour de France.
Eržen, who was never charged but was previously under watch by the UCI due to alleged links to the Operation Aderlass doping investigation, was quick to defend his team and his riders when contacted by Cyclingnews last month.
“I can’t comment on anyone else and I’ll never comment on other teams,” he said.
“I don’t care what one sports director has to say. He can say whatever he wants. We’re doing our jobs and we’ve invested in this team, in our riders, coaches, training camps and nutrition. Everything. Sooner or later results need to come.
“I don’t need to explain to anybody. We have the same doping controls as other teams, maybe more, I don’t know. And if anyone comes to us for doping control we are always open about that.”
Eržen pointed to a change in the team’s approach to racing, with a more aggressive strategy to target stage wins more consistently rather than purely riding for a top-10 or top-five overall. According to Eržen, this was one of the reasons behind the team’s success.
Currently at the Tour de France, Pello Bilbao is the team’s top-placed rider on the overall, holding steady in tenth place after finishing seventh atop the arduous climb of the Col du Portet on stage 17.
The team had to change their Tour focus after losing their GC leader Jack Haig to a stage 3 crash. They have picked up two stage wins since then. Matej Mohorič took a solo victory from the break on the rolling parcours of the 249.1km stage 7, while Dylan Teuns attacked from the remains of the break on stage 8 to close the gap to Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) on the Col de la Colombière and then rode off alone to take victory.