A Bahrain-Merida rider and an assistant sports director have been banned by the UCI over their links with the Operation Aderlass doping scandal.
Slovenian rider Kristijan Koren was pulled from the Giro d’Italia earlier this year after the UCI published names of riders involved with the Austrian blood doping ring, with the UCI announcing on Tuesday (October 8) that Koren had been handed a two-year ban as a result.
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Borut Božič, a Slovenian former pro now working as a sports director for Bahrain-Merida, has also been banned for two years.
The pair were sanctioned after the UCI received information from law enforcement authorities in Austria that linked them to a blood doping operation.
Koren has been banned for using a prohibited method or substance in 2011 and 2012, when he rode for Liquigas-Cannondale, while Božič has been sanctioned for using a banned method or substance in 2012, while riding for Astana.
Both men were provisionally suspended by Bahrain-Merida when their names were published by the UCI earlier this year.
A statement from the cycling’s international governing body said: “The UCI announces that it has sanctioned Mr Kristijan Koren and Mr Borut Božič for anti-doping rule violations.
“Mr. Koren has been sanctioned with a period of ineligibility of two years for anti-doping rule violations committed in 2011 and 2012 (i.e. use of prohibited methods/substances) based on information received from the law enforcement authorities of Austria.
“Mr. Božič has been sanctioned with a period of ineligibility of two years for anti-doping rule violations committed in 2012 (i.e. use of prohibited methods/substances) based on information received from the law enforcement authorities of Austria.”
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 team said earlier this year: “Today we have been notified by the UCI about potential anti-doping rule violations by two members of our team – rider Kristijan Koren and sports director Borut Božič.
“The team strictly advocates a zero-tolerance doping policy and has therefore provisionally suspended both members concerned.”
Bahrain-Merida added that they carry out thorough medical and biological passport checks for any new rider.
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.
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.