Riders pulled from Giro d’Italia and Tour of California as UCI publishes names linked to blood doping scandal

The governing body has suspended four more people over the Operation Aderlass investigation

(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

The Austrian blood doping scandal has hit the Giro d’Italia and the Tour of California as the UCI has published four names believed to be connected with the case.

Bahrain-Merida rider Kristijan Koren has been pulled from the Giro, while Kristijan Durasek (UAE Team Emirates) will not continue in California after both were provisionally suspended by cycling’s governing body.

The UCI said it has been notified of potential anti-doping rule violations (ADVR) by both riders, a sports director, and retired Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi.

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Durasek and Koren were both named alongside Bahrain-Merida assistant sports director Borut Božič and Petacchi.

A statement from the UCI, released on Wednesday morning (May 15), said: “Based on information received from the law enforcement authorities of Austria, the UCI has notified these individuals of potential anti-doping rule violations.

“The UCI has also provisionally suspended the above-mentioned individuals.”

Slovenian Koren, who joined Bahrain at the start of 2018 from Cannondale, was riding the Giro in support of team leader Vincenzo Nibali, but was pulled from the race ahead of stage five after he was named by Italian media as a rider linked with the doping scandal.

In a statement released on Wednesday, his Bahrain-Merida team said: “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 alleged violations relate to the 2012 and 2013 season.

“The team strictly advocates a zero-tolerance doping policy and has therefore provisionally suspended both members concerned.”

Croatian rider Durasek was pulled from the Tour of California squad ahead of stage four after he was also named in Italian media.

UAE Team Emirates said: "Today [the team] were informed that the UCI has opened an investigation into Croatian rider Kristijan Durasek, regarding his involvement in the Aderlass case in Austria a few years ago.

"Following the team's internal policy and the information received from the UCI the athlete has been suspended, effective immediately, as we follow developments in the case.

"The team hopes that Durasek can prove he was not involved in the affair. Should it be proven otherwise, he will be terminated immediately."

Alessandro Petacchi, who retired in 2015, was also named by the UCI due to a potential anti-doping violation allegedly committed in 2012-13.

The 45-year-old, who is working as a commentator for Italian TV during the Giro, has denied any wrongdoing.

He told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “I’ve never had a blood transfusion.

“I found out from you that this Mark Schmidt guy was a team doctor at Team Milram when I raced for them.

“I never saw him or met him. I never went to his surgery, in Germany or anywhere else.”

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Bahrain-Merida added that they carry out thorough medical and biological passport checks for any new rider.

The four individuals have been linked with 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, alongside German doctor Mark Schmidt who was linked to the former Gerolsteiner cycling team.

Gerolsteiner folded in 2008 after a number of doping scandals.

The first cyclist implicated in the scandal was Austrian former Aqua Blue Sport rider Stefan Denifl, who police encountered while investigating Dr Schmidt.

Groupama-FDJ rider and fellow Austrian Georg Preidler then quit his team shortly after, admitting that he had extracted blood to be re-infused at a later date.

Both riders have been provisionally suspended by the UCI.

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.