Europcar team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau says he has no knowledge of any inquiry into his team's alleged use of corticosteroids and intravenous solutions of vitamins. Speaking at a pre-Tour de France press conference in Liège, Belgium, Bernaudeau also put up a staunch defence of his team's philosophy and record, and pointed out that the team had also been instrumental in the foundation of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), which has taken a very firm stance against the use of corticosteroids.
The veteran French team boss started off the press conference by making a brief statement. "We have a good reputation dating back to the foundation of Vendée U in 1991. Our philosophy is one of transparency," said Bernaudeau, before answering a series of questions dealing with the story that appeared in this morning's edition of L'Equipe.
"The first I knew about all this was when someone called me at 8:55 yesterday evening when I was in the middle of dinner in a Paris restaurant. It was quite a shock and the allegations they made were difficult to believe," he said. "I wasn't able to read the story when it appeared on the internet yesterday, but when I saw the paper this morning it wasn't as bad as I had thought. In fact there is nothing in it."
Asked if he had had any official notification about an investigation into his team, Bernaudeau replied: "Strictly nothing. That's why it is such a surprise. I now know that two of the riders on the team have been questioned, as well as our doctor and biologist."
He concurred with the suggestion that the allegations and inquiry may be the result of jealousy of the team's success over the past 18 months. "If we hadn't done so well, we might not be here talking about this now. I would stress, though, that the health of our riders is our priority." He added that the Thursday before the day always tends to be the day when this kind of story emerges.
Bernaudeau also pointed out that his team had been one of the driving forces behind the foundation of the MPCC, which had taken a strong line against the use of corticosteroids. "It's strange that we are being accused of using them when we have spent so much time fighting against the use of corticosteroids and WADA's change of the rules (in 2009 allowing therapeutic use exemptions for their use)."
Sitting beside Bernaudeau was Europcar team leader Thomas Voeckler, who admitted he had read the L'Equipe story, but hadn't lost any sleep over it. "I'm just trying to focus on the race, but I am a little worried because I'm not happy hearing stories and rumours like this about my team," said the Frenchman.
Voeckler also spoke about his recent knee problems, which forced him to quit both the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Route de Sud, and threatened his hopes of participating in the Tour. "I started training two days ago, I did four hours on the bike yesterday and it seems OK. I'm happy to be here and feel in physically good shape. But obviously having more than a week off the bike is not ideal when you're into the final stages of your preparation for the Tour. I've lost some muscular mass and will take things steadily for the first few days."
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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