The UCI has confirmed the names of four cyclists involved in Operation Aderlass, the joint German-Austrian police investigation that uncovered a blood doping ring, with Alessandro Petacchi, Kristijan Koren, Kristijan Durasek, and Borut Bozic all being suspended and notified of potential Anti-Doping Rules Violations.
Petacchi, who retired from professional cycling in 2015 having won more than 150 races, has been suspended while the UCI investigate the "use of prohibited method" between 2012 and 2013. The Italian’s only wins during that period were three stages of Bayern Rundfahrt.
The UCI revealed that Koren and Bozic are under investigation for the "use of prohibited method" in 2012-2013. Durasek is under investigation for "use of prohibited method" in 2017.
Koren is currently riding the Giro d'Italia with Bahrain-Merida, while Durasek is riding the Tour of California with UAE Team Emirates. Both riders have been suspended by their teams and sent home. Borut Bozic works as a sport director for Bahrain-Merida after retiring from racing at the end of last year.
Bahrain-Merida confirmed the suspension of Koren and Bozic, saying it has a "zero-tolerance doping policy" and "always carries out a thorough medical checks (including biological passport check) of any new signed rider." The team pointed out that "both cases relate to the 2012 and/or 2013 season" when Koren rode for the Liquigas-Cannondale and Cannondale teams, while Bozic rode for Astana.
UAE Team Emirates said it hopes Durasek "can prove he was not involved in the affair. Should it be proven otherwise, he will be terminated immediately."
The UCI confirmed it has received information on the riders implicated in Operation Aderlass involved directly from Austrian authorities.
"Based on information received from the law enforcement authorities of Austria, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has notified the following individuals of potential Anti-Doping Rules Violations (ADRV): Borut Bozic, Kristijan Durasek, Kristijan Koren, Alessandro Petacchi," read a statement from the UCI.
"The UCI has also provisionally suspended the above-mentioned individuals pursuant to Article 7.9.3 of the UCI Anti-Doping Rules. The UCI and the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF), the independent body mandated by the UCI to define and lead the anti-doping testing strategy and investigations in our sport, have been in close contact with the sport and state authorities involved in the Aderlass investigation, in particular with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the Austrian law enforcement authorities.
"The UCI and the CADF will continue to cooperate with and assist all parties involved in these investigations but, in view of the nature of the ongoing investigation, will not make any further comment at this stage."
Petacchi’s name was first linked to Aderlass on Tuesday, when French newspaper Le Monde and Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera alleged he was a client of Dr. Mark Schmidt, at the centre of the doping ring, which covers a range of sports.
Petacchi, whose former teammate Danilo Hondo confessed using Dr. Schimdt for blood doping services in 2012 and 2013, denied the allegation, saying: "I’ve never had a blood transfusion. I’ve no idea why my name appears in this dossier."
However, Petacchi, who rode the UCI-registered Cape Epic mountain bike event earlier this year, was suspended by the UCI for his involvement on Wednesday morning.
The inclusion of Koren would potentially be the second time a current Bahrain-Merida had been implicated in a doping doping in twelve months after Kanstantsin Siutsou tested positive for EPO in 2018. Last December, with McLaren powering into the sport as a main backer of the Bahrain-Merida team, it was disclosed to Cyclingnews that the investors had carried out due diligence and worked closely with the UCI before making a major financial commitment to the sport.
“We spent a lot of time this year around doing due diligence and the nature of the opportunity,” Chief Marketing Officer John Allert told Cyclingnews. “Nothing is ever 100 per cent sure, but we sought and received assurances from the UCI as to what the sport is doing. The reaction from both the Bahrain-Merida team and the UCI to anything that’s happened throughout the season has underscored the commitment that both those parties have. That was reassuring to us as part of our due diligence.”