The more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite cycling's efforts to clean up the sport with the Athlete Biological Passport, intelligence-led doping controls, the UCI's 'independent' anti-doping body the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation and attempts to shift the sport's culture, there will always be those who will break the rules for personal gain. And so it was of little surprise when Austrian Federal Criminal Police Office raids on the Nordic World Ski Championships in February 2019 had a link to pro cycling.
The investigators with Operation Aderlass (or 'bloodletting' in English) tracked a doping scheme from 2011 through to the arrests in February 2019 of nine individuals, five of whom were skiers from Kazakhstan, Estonia and Austria. Operation Aderlass comes 13 years after the infamous Spanish inquiry Operacion Puerto, and a decade on from the more closely related HumanPlasma scandal and Mantova investigations.
In a coordinated raid on a clinic in Erfurt, Germany on February 27, 2019, investigators raided an illegal doping laboratory with doping preparations, blood bags, blood transfusions and a centrifuge and arrested a German physician with ties to the former pro team Gerolsteiner.
It was none other than Mark Schmidt, formerly a team doctor for Gerolsteiner and Milram who had been named in 2009 by Bernhard Kohl as the supervisor of team doping practices. Kohl was banned and exited the sport in disgrace, but an Austrian court blocked proceedings against Schmidt in 2010. Even so, at that time, UCI anti-doping rules did not apply to team doctors or staff, allowing Schmidt to continue to work with athletes.
- Kohl accuses former Gerolsteiner doctor of doping involvement - October 12, 2009
- Court stops Kohl's claims against former team doctor - January 9, 2010
The first cyclist to confess to blood doping under the scheme was Stefan Denifl, who had signed with the CCC Team and, troublingly, had no 'red flags' on his biological passport. Soon after, Stefan Preidler (Groupama-FDJ) admitting to having extractions. The UCI suspended both riders and their colleagues denounced them, while others questioned the effectiveness of the biological passport.
After the first round of outrage was cleared, the state prosecutor Kai Gräber warned ominously that there were "more chapters to be written" in the investigation.
- Denifl confesses to blood doping in police interview - March 3, 2019
- Ochowicz: No red flags in Denifl's biological passport - March 3, 2019
- Madiot expresses 'surprise' and 'enormous disappointment' at Preidler doping confession - March 4, 2019
- UCI hopes to secure information on cyclists involved in blood doping investigation - March 4, 2019
- Preidler admits to blood extraction as doping investigation widens - March 4, 2019
- Pinot labels Preidler's blood extraction as 'high treason' - March 5, 2019
- Kittel calls for better support for athletes after blood doping investigation - March 5, 2019
- UCI provisionally suspends Preidler and Denifl after blood doping confessions - March 5, 2019
- Ten Dam questions effectiveness of biological passport after Denifl, Preidler confessions - March 7, 2019
- Dumoulin: Cycling 'shouldn't get lazy' in the fight against doping - March 14, 2019
- More chapters to be written' in Operation Aderlass, says state prosecutor - March 20, 2019
Just before the start of the 2019 Giro d'Italia, Danilo Hondo - who came up through Team Telekom and formerly raced with Lampre before retiring and moving into a coaching position with the Swiss Federation - admitted to blood doping in 2012 and 2013 (while with Lampre and RadioShack, respectively). "Everyone was shocked," Hondo said, before adding he was confessing to teach a lesson to his young prodigies.
"It would have been wrong if I had tried to escape my responsibilities by legal means, and that's the only way I can send a clear signal to my athletes."
Hondo's former Lampre teammate Alessandro Petacchi might have been vindicated by Chris Froome's salbutamol case last year, but the investigative documents reportedly incriminated him in Operation Aderlass. The Italian sprinter was forced to leave his role as technical commentator for Giro d'Italia broadcaster RAI after the UCI confirmed that Petacchi, Kristijan Koren, Kristijan Durasek, and Borut Bozic were all being suspended and notified of potential Anti-Doping Rules Violations.
UAE Team Emirates started the Tour of California without Durasek, while Koren was forced out of the Giro d'Italia. Bozic was suspended as a directeur sportif with Bahrain-Merida.
- Ex-pro Danilo Hondo confesses to blood doping - May 13, 2019
- Petacchi denies links to blood doping investigation - May 14, 2019
- Nibali 'disappointed' by Koren's implication in Aderlass doping inquiry - May 15, 2019
- Petacchi quits Giro d’Italia after UCI accuse him of potential doping violation - May 15, 2019
- Tour of California: UAE continue despite Durasek doping-related suspension - May 15, 2019
- Roglic: Slovenian riders' involvement in Aderlass doping investigation is 'sad' - May 15, 2019
- Petacchi, Koren, Durasek, Bozic named in Aderlass doping ring - May 15, 2019
Operation Aderlass then steered toward a key figure in the Bahrain-Merida team, as links emerged between Dr. Schmidt an the team's unofficial manager, Slovenian Milan Erzen.
Erzen issued a terse denial, "all and any implications regarding my involvement in Aderlass are absolutely false and unfounded".
- Bahrain-Merida's Milan Erzen under UCI investigation for doping links - May 23, 2019
- More damaging questions as links uncovered between Erzen and Aderlass doping doctor - May 23, 2019
- Polanc: I'm proud to be Slovenian - May 23, 2019
- Roglic and Nibali left to face questions over Milan Erzen and his links to Operation Aderlass - May 27, 2019
- UCI suspends Kollmann-Forstner for connection with Operation Aderlass - May 29, 2019
The UCI proceeded with banning a number of riders in connection with the affair and decided to proceed with retesting unspecified samples from 2016 and 2017.
- Denifl and Preidler handed four-year bans after blood doping confessions - June 27, 2019
- Alessandro Petacchi handed two-year doping ban - August 24, 2019
- Preidler charged with fraud in Operation Aderlass doping inquiry - September 19, 2019
- Sunweb consider suing Preidler for damages if he doped during 2017 Giro d'Italia
- Denifl facing possible prison time for doping admission in Operation Aderlass - September 23, 2019
- Kristijan Koren and Borut Bozic handed two-year bans for doping - October 9, 2019
- Bahrain-Merida fire Koren and Bozic after doping bans - October 10, 2019
- Durasek banned for four years for doping - November 13, 2019
- UCI to re-test samples from 2016, 2017 in light of Operation Aderlass information - November 27, 2019
- MPCC calls on UCI to do more against a suspected blood doping 'mafia' - December 4, 2019
The investigation led to more punishment for those involved, including charges of sporting fraud, while turning up more details about the ways athletes cheated the system. Schmidt faced a five and a half year prison sentence, the most severe punishment of all the involved parties. The case also led the UCI to order re-testing of stored samples from 2016 and 2017, including those from the Tour de France.
- Preidler: My decision to blood dope was stupid and wrong - January 15, 2020
- Denifl: I wouldn't have gotten a contract without doping - February 3, 2020
- Ex-pro Pirmin Lang confesses involvement in Aderlass doping ring - February 22, 2020
- Anti-doping samples from 2017 Tour de France retested in light of Operation Aderlass information - May 30, 2020
- Biological Passport: Have dopers found ways to beat it? - July 17, 2020
- Georg Preidler found guilty of fraud in Operation Aderlass doping case - July 22, 2020
- Operation Aderlass investigators discover new doping product - September 10, 2020
- Hondo tells Aderlass trial he doped with Petacchi - November 11, 2020
- Petacchi claims Hondo’s blood doping accusations were poorly translated - November 13, 2020
- Bahrain manager Milan Erzen denies links to Aderlass doctor - December 1, 2020
- Photos of Dumoulin and Roglic appear in Aderlass lineup, riders deny links - December 23, 2020
- Operation Aderlass, Operacion Puerto approach closure with two different outcomes - January 8, 2021
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