The Belgian Court of Arbitration for Sport (BAS) ruled today that the country's cycling federation must allow the registration of World number three-ranked cyclo-cross rider Tom Meeusen, top U23 rider Laurens Sweeck and Bart Wellens for the UCI World Cup in Hoogerheide this weekend, and next week's UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Tabor.
The Belgian federation ruled last week that it could exclude the three riders from the races under UCI rules which state: "A rider against whom an investigation was opened in relation to a fact which may cause a breach of the UCI Anti-Doping Rules, will not be eligible for the World Championships or is not authorised to participate to the World Championships until the end of the suspension or until his definitive acquittal. ... Unless otherwise decided by the anti-doping commission, the above paragraph is also applicable in the event of an investigation or a procedure regarding such a fact, opened in pursuance of a law or other regulation."
Meeusen argued that he had not violated any anti-doping rules, and had only visited the doctor to have sinus problems treated. He denied ever having ozone treatment or any kind of blood manipulation. Although the case has been going on since 2013, new information was provided to prosecutors last week, according to the Belgian federation. Meeusen was questioned and kept out of the World Championships in Louisville two years ago, but has never been charged with an anti-doping rule violation.
The BAS agreed that the trio should not be excluded from the races, making its decision just before the registration deadline for the World Championships. If the Belgian federation fails to register Meeusen, it could face a €50,000 fine.
Meeusen reacted to the news via Twitter, saying, "What a roller coaster of emotions this week! There is still justice. Huge thanks to everyone who stood behind me! #dopefree"
The decision of the BAS might have been cause for celebration among the Telenet-Fidea team of Meeusen and Wellens, and Sweeck's Kwardro-Corendon team, but the Sunweb-Napoleon Games squad was displeased, as the decision could mean Belgium would have no room for at least one of its young riders Gianni Vermeersch and Tim Merlier in the World Championships.
Although the UCI rules state that riders in the top 50 of the individual rankings must be selected for the World Cup, Wellens will still have to prove himself this weekend in Hoogerheide to be selected for Tabor. With Kevin Pauwels, Wout Van Aert, Meeusen, Klaas Vantornout, Sven Nys and Rob Peeters the top Belgians in the rankings, that leaves just one spot now for either Vermeersch or Merlier, who were named to the team before the decision of the BAS.
"Our trip was arranged by the federation, but our entourage, supporters and family have meanwhile have invested a lot of money," Sunweb manager Jurgen Mettepenningen said to Sporza.be.
"There were hotels and flights booked, winter tires purchased ... For one of us that is a waste of money. It is also a sad fact that we will have to compete against each other for the last World Championship spot."
"As long Meeusen and Sweeck are not guilty, I think they belong at the World Championships," Mettepenningen said. "So I understand the decision, but on the other hand it is very unfortunate for Merlier and Vermeersch. Both riders are doing well, Monday we were 100 percent sure of a selection and now we must again prove ourselves. If they both end up falling out of the selection, I would find that inappropriate."