Bahrain manager Milan Erzen denies links to Aderlass doctor

Milan Erzen
Milan Erzen (right) is part of the Bahrain-McLaren management (Image credit: Bettini)

Milan Eržen’s lawyer has denied that he has ever worked with Dr. Mark Schmidt, who is currently on trial in Munich for his role in the Aderlass blood doping ring, after the name of the Bahrain McLaren team manager was again linked to the case.  

According to the German DPA news agency (opens in new tab), an investigator who questioned Dr. Schmidt during the investigation said in court in Munich on Friday that the German doctor revealed that Eržen “wanted to enter into a business relationship.” 

DPA and a number of German and other media reported that Eržen also asked Dr. Schmidt for "a machine" – apparently for processing blood. 

When Eržen’s name was first linked to Dr. Schmidt in 2019, French newspaper Le Monde reported that information provided to them showed that the investigators at the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) – the anti-doping arm of the UCI – had documentation that Erzen made contact with Dr. Schmidt via a Croatian intermediary, apparently to purchase a centrifuge – a piece of equipment used in blood transfusions to separate red cells from plasma.

The investigator testified in court that Dr. Schmidt allegedly refused to cooperate with Eržen and later did not respond to a text message. 

At least 23 athletes, including a number of high profile cross country skiers and professional cyclists from eight countries, were caught up in the Aderlass doping investigation.

According to a profile by the Corriere della Sera newspaper in Italy, Eržen is considered the 'Dominus' of Slovenian cycling. He has already caught the eye of the UCI, but no formal investigation has ever been opened and he has been given a licence to operate in professional cycling.

Cyclingnews tried to contact Eržen via telephone but he was not available.  

His lawyer Tomažin Bolcar issued a statement to the Slovenian website website saying: "Between 2013 and 2016, Milan Eržen did not perform any function in cycling. The text message from 2014 to Dr. Schmidt thus has nothing to do with cycling.”

He added: “Furthermore, there was never any form of cooperation between Eržen and Schmidt and they never established a relationship, neither business or personal.

Milan Eržen also never had any connection with Primož Roglič or Tadej Pogačar. We can only guess why there are such pretentious international media reports, which have been summarized by the Slovenian media. Most likely, they can be identified as an attempt to relate it to the success of Slovenian cycling in recent years."

The two Slovenian riders, who finished first and second at the Tour de France, have never been linked to the Aderlass investigation or any wrongdoing. 

However in an apparent contradiction of Eržen's lawyer's comments, Roglic told Cyclingnews in 2019 that "He (Eržen) was the head coach of the Adria team in 2013, when I started and so was also my coach or my DS for a year. We got along and had no problems. We've not really had a lot of contact. He's tried to sign me sometimes, so we always talk a little. But more like a friend because he's Slovenian."

In October 2019, Kristijan Koren and Borut Božič, both part of the Bahrain-Merida team, where given two-year bans for their links to the doping ring uncovered by Operation Aderlass. 

Stefan Denifl, George Preidler, and Kristijan Durasek were all banned for a period of four years, while German sprinter Danilo Hondo and his former teammate Alessandro Petacchi were given a two-year ban for doping violations dating back to 2012 and 2013. Hondo has since confessed to doping and being a client of Dr. Schmidt. Petacchi has continued to deny any wrongdoing.

Further details of Dr. Schmidt’s involvement in Aderlass have emerged during the trial hearings in recent weeks, with Dr. Schmidt’s staff and assistant being questioned and the German doctor offering written testimony and even an offer for his specialist medical freezer equipment to be made available to store COVID-19 vaccines. 

Schmidt admitted to doping athletes at an earlier sitting of the trial in September. Delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means the trial is expected to go on until june 2021. Schmidt could face up to ten years in jail under German law.

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