Bahrain-Merida fire rider and sports director over Operation Aderlass doping scandal

The UCI handed out sanctions after information was passed on by Austrian authorities

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Bahrain-Merida have fired a rider and a sports director after they were banned by the UCI for their links with the Operation Aderlass blood doping scandal.

Slovenian rider Kristijan Koren and his compatriot Borut Božič, a former pro turned DS, were both suspended by the team earlier this year after the UCI published names of riders believed to be involved in the Austrian and German doping ring.

Earlier this week, cycling’s international governing body announced that it had banned Koren and Božič for two-years after the UCI received information from Austrian law enforcement authorities.

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Koren was sanctioned for using a prohibited method or substance in 2011 and 2012, while riding for Liquigas-Cannondale, while Božič was banned for an anti-doping violation in 2012 during his time with Astana.

Bahrain-Merida have terminated both riders’ contracts and pointed out the violations were committed before the team existed.

A statement from the outfit said: “We note the UCI sanctions for Mr Kristijan Koren and Mr Borut Božič, relating to offences committed in 2011 and 2012, prior to the establishment of our team.

“Consistent with Bahrain-Merida’s zero tolerance policy, Messrs Koren and Božič were both immediately suspended at the time of the UCI’s initial notification and their contracts subsequently terminated.

“We have no further comment on this matter.”

Koren, 32, had been riding the 2019 Giro d’Italia in support of team leader Vincenzo Nibali, but was pulled from the race ahead of stage five after he was named as a rider linked with the doping scandal.

He joined Bahrain at the start of the 2018 season from Cannondale-Drapac.

Božič had retired as a racer at the end of the 2018 season but stayed on with his Bahrain-Merida team as a sports director.

The bans are the result of Operation Aderlass, a police investigation into blood doping in the Nordic skiing World Championships in Seefeld, Austria.

Police raided 16 properties and arrested nine people earlier this year during operations in Seefeld and Erfurt, Germany, and 40 blood bags were seized in the process.

A number of skiers were arrested and it soon emerged that top tier cyclists were also involved.

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Former Groupama-FDJ rider Georg Preidler and former Aqua Blue Sport rider Stefan Denifl have both been banned from the sport for four years and face charges of commercially serious sports fraud. Preidler’s ban is provisional as he is contesting the case.

The Aderlass scandal has also resulted in the banning of retired sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, after authorities passed information to the UCI that revealed he had committed an anti-doping rule violation between 2012 and 2013.

Petacchi, who retired in 2015, denies any wrongdoing but has been banned for two years.