In a statement sent to Cyclingnews, the team insisted they have a “zero tolerance” approach to doping and highlighted the fact that the sanctions relate to infractions that predate their membership of the team.
Koren, who was a rider for the team, and Bozic, a sport director and former rider, were banned for two years by the UCI after being implicated in the blood doping ring unearthed by an Austrian police investigation dubbed Operation Aderlass. Both sanctions relate to "use of prohibited methods/substances", with Koren’s occurring in 2011 and 2012 and Bozic’s in 2012.
Koren, who was pulled out of this year’s Giro d’Italia when news of potential anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) emerged on the morning of stage 5, rode for the Liquigas-Cannondale team in 2011 and 2012, going on to join Bahrain-Merida in 2018. Bozic, meanwhile, was at Astana in 2012 and rode for Bahrain-Merida in 2017 and 2018 before becoming a sport director in 2019.
"We note the UCI sanctions for Mr Kristian Koren and Mr Borut Bozic, relating to offences committed in 2011 and 2012, prior to the establishment of our team," read the statement from Bahrain-Merida.
"Consistent with Team Bahrain Merida’s zero tolerance policy, Messrs Koren and Bozic were both immediately suspended at the time of the UCI’s initial notification, and their contracts subsequently terminated. We have no further comment on this matter."
Operation Aderlass (or 'bloodletting' in English) came to light in February with a number of Austrian police raids that uncovered a blood doping ring around former Gerolsteiner doctor, Mark Schmidt. The first arrests were skiers, but it wasn’t long before pro cyclists were found to be involved, with Stefan Denifl and Georg Preidler the first to be sanctioned. In May, more names followed, including Koren and Bozic, along with Alessandro Petacchi, Kristijan Durasek and Danilo Hondo.
Bahrain-Merida have distanced themselves from the infractions of Koren and Bozic but the team's managing director, Milan Erzen, was recently revealed to be under investigation by the UCI on suspicion of doping, with newspaper reports in Italy and France linking him to Dr Schmidt. In September 2018, Bahrain-Merida rider Kanstansin Siutsou tested positive for EPO and remains provisionally suspended.
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