Tour de France: the sulphurous Bahrain Victorious team in the sights of the investigators

Tour de France: the sulphurous Bahrain Victorious team in the sights of the investigators

Surprising performances, a leader involved in a former doping case, an open investigation and now two searches in two years on the Tour de France. This is starting to do a lot for the Bahrain Victorious team. This cycling formation present on the Grande Boucle which starts this Friday from Copenhagen (Denmark) received this Thursday at dawn the visit of the French police, in its hotel in the Danish capital. Not ideal as a preparation on the eve of the start of the biggest race in the world.

This Thursday afternoon, the team returned very briefly to a press conference on the morning search. “We would like to have more details”, indicated the director of the performance of the formation, specifying to have “no information on the reasons for the police action”. In these conditions, “we have nothing to say, we just stay focused on the race and we will only answer questions about the race”. The press conference was cut short, and the tension was palpable around the team.

The Marseille public prosecutor’s office reacted in the evening by specifying that it had seized, during various searches between June 27 and 30, in Italy, Spain, Belgium and Poland, Slovenia, Croatia and Denmark, “electronic equipment (telephones, computers, discs drugs) and medicines whose nature and origin remain undetermined or whose prescription remains subject to prescription”. In detail, the homes of the manager, three riders, the osteopath and a team doctor were searched, said the prosecution. “All of these seizures will be the subject of subsequent analysis and exploitation,” it adds.

The vice therefore seems to be tightening around the team of Slovenian Matej Mohoric and Belgian Dylan Teuns. These two classic hunters won three stages on the Tour last year (two for Mohoric, one for Teuns) and two classics this year (Milan-San Remo for the Slovenian, the Flèche Wallonne for the Belgian).

Last year, their team had surprised the peloton and the followers by the “outperformances” of riders unknown or at the end of their career: the two stage victories of the Ukrainian Mark Padun in the Dauphiné, the breakaways in the mountains of the Italian sprinter Sonny Colbrelli, later winner of Paris-Roubaix, or 2nd place on the Giro by Damiano Caruso. The latter will also be the co-leader of the team on this Tour, with the Australian Jack Haig, 3rd in the last Tour of Spain.

All this is not enough to condemn a team and riders presumed innocent. But Bahrain also has more concrete suspicions that have weighed on it since the opening of an investigation in July 2021 by the Marseille public prosecutor’s office, for “acquisition, transport, possession, import of a prohibited substance or method for the purpose of use by an athlete without medical justification”.

Two weeks later, the Bahraini team, then first in the team classification, was the subject of a search in its hotel in Pau, after the 17th stage of the Tour. In particular, she is suspected of having used Tizanidine, a drug used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

A rider and a sports director suspended for doping in 2019

Even before the search on Thursday morning, other police raids had taken place on Monday, by the European Union Police Cooperation Agency (Europol), in Slovenia, Poland and Spain. The boss of the Bahraini team, the Slovenian Milan Erzen, the Polish doctor Piotr Kosielski and the French physiotherapist Barnabé Moulin, residing in the province of Alicante (Spain), saw European police agents entering their residences on orders of the court.

But it was from its creation in 2017 that the Bahrain team (first Bahrain Merida, then Bahrain McLaren) was able to arouse suspicion, since its manager from the outset, Milan Erzen, is cited in the Aderlass affair, a police investigation in Austria into doping cases. Erzen has never been convicted or suspended in this case, but has been investigated by the UCI.

On the other hand, a rider from Bahrain, Kristjian Koren, and a sporting director, Borut Bozic, both Slovenians, were suspended for two years in 2019, for violations of the anti-doping regulations committed in 2011 and 2012. The facts certainly dated back to before the creation of Bahrain, but these suspensions did nothing to fix the sulphurous image of the formation.

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