Bahrain Victorious' general manager Milan Eržen has defended his team in the face of anonymous doping accusations that surfaced in the French media over the weekend.
According to a report in Le Parisien, two individuals, including one team boss, raised concerns over Bahrain Victorious' recent performances both at the Giro d’Italia and the Critérium du Dauphiné. They both refrained from going on the record, and admitted that they had no proof to back up the allegations or suspicions, but they nevertheless raised doubts over the team’s credibility.
Bahrain Victorious have enjoyed a stellar few weeks, with Damiano Caruso finishing second in the Giro d’Italia and the team winning three stages of the Dauphiné. Mark Padun put in two back-to-back surprise performances at the weekend to win consecutive mountain stages at the French race.
Caruso, 33, who was handed a back-dated doping violation in 2012 by CONI, has forged a career as a solid mountain domestique and achieved his best-ever result in the Giro to finish as Egan Bernal’s closest challenger.
"It's an absolute disgrace", the anonymous team boss told Le Parisien.
"How am I going to approach sponsors and tell them that there is no more doping when we see this? It's crude. The Bahrain team is becoming more and more scandalous. Already, their Giro was depressing, with the Italian Damiano Caruso or the Slovenian Jan Tratnik who surprised everyone on the climbs."
A separate individual raised similar concerns to Le Parisien, quoted anonymously as 'a member of a French team'.
"We all feel like idiots. That the guy does a hold-up at La Plagne, why not? But he doesn't have the decency to hide away a bit the next day. There's a feeling of impunity that reminds us of the dirty 2000s. But, obviously, as long as you don't have proof, you keep quiet..."
Eržen, who was never charged but was previous under watch by the UCI due to alleged links to the Operation Aderlass doping investigation, was quick to defend his team and his riders when contacted on Monday morning by Cyclingnews.
"I can’t comment on anyone else and I’ll never comment on other teams," he said.
"I don’t care what one sports director has to say. He can say whatever he wants. We’re doing our jobs and we’ve invested in this team, in our riders, coaches, training camps and nutrition. Everything. Sooner or later results need to come.
"I don’t know what kind of suspicions there are. We are following the work of last year and Rod Ellingworth, he taught us a lot and I can be 110 per cent sure that we’re working by the rules. I don’t need to explain to anybody. We have the same doping controls as other teams, maybe more, I don’t know. And if anyone comes to us for doping control we are always open about that."
Eržen went on to defend Caruso, Padun, and Sonny Colbrelli, who also won a stage at the Dauphiné as well as taking three runner-up placings.
"Look at Damiano. He has finished top-10 in Grand Tours when working for someone else. Does that make him a shitty rider? Or Sonny Colbrelli, was he not winning before? Also Padun, back in 2019 he won races against top guys. He’s been a high-level guy but has just had some problems. I don’t need problems from the rest of the peloton.
"We’re racing just like the other teams. Padun spent two days in the break but if he stays in the peloton I don’t think that he’ll finish inside the top-10 because he’s not that confident. Yesterday, instead of helping Jack Haig, we felt that going for the stage win was more important."
Eržen underlined that the team’s approach to racing had also evolved over the last 12 months. Rather than simply ride for a top-10 or top-five overall in stage races, the team had taken the decision to race more aggressively and target stage wins on a more consistent basis. According to Eržen, this was part of the reason why the team had been so successful in recent weeks.
"To put a whole team behind one guy at the Tour de France when there are three or four guys better than us, it looks stupid. Why would we do this? We did it last year and got a fourth place but fourth, fifth or sixth, it’s totally the same. Only the Tour is important for the podium and second place you are just the first in a line of losers. Okay, the Tour de France it means something if you’re second, but not the rest."
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