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French police open doping investigation after Arkea-Samsic hotel search at Tour de France

NICE FRANCE AUGUST 28 Warren Barguil of France Clement Russo of France Kevin Ledanois of France Winner Andrew Anacona of Colombia Nairo Quintana Rojas of Colombia and Team Arkea Samsic during the 107th Tour de France 2020 Team Arkea Samsic Training TDF2020 LeTour on August 28 2020 in Nice France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Arkea Samsic (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

French police have opened a preliminary investigation with a suspicion of doping in a “small part” of the Arkéa-Samsic team at this year’s Tour de France, according to the French AFP news agency. 

The Marseille prosecutor's office confirmed the formal opening of the investigation to AFP on Monday, as riders and team travelled home from the three-week race, where Tadej Pogačar snatched overall victory from fellow Slovenian Primož Roglič in Saturday’s final time trial stage.  

AFP said the investigation was opened by the police public health department, with prosecutor Dominique Laurens, referring to the "discovery of many health products including drugs (...) and especially a method that could be qualified as doping." 

A further update via AFP said two people have been taken into preliminary custody or “Gardes à vue” on Monday morning. According to the Le Parisien, the two were a team doctor and soigneur, adding that "100ml of saline and injection equipment" were discovered during the searches. Le Parisien also reported that Nairo Quintana and Dayer Quintana were questioned.

Laurens talked of illegally prescribed medicines, saying the investigation had been opened into those “responsible for the administration and prescription to an athlete without medical justification of a substance or method prohibited within the framework of a sports event, aid in the use and incitement to the use of a substance or method prohibited to athletes, the transport and possession of a prohibited substance or method for the purpose of use by an athlete without medical justification.”  

French police searched hotel rooms occupied by Arkéa-Samsic last Wednesday during the Tour de France, according to reports in Le Journal du Dimanche and L’Équipe.

Arkéa-Samsic team manager Emmanuel Hubert confirmed that the search had taken place when contacted by L’Équipe, but he declined to comment further. 

L'Équipe reported that Nairo Quintana was the target of the raid, which was carried out by officers from the Central Office for Combating Environmental and Public Health Damage (OCLAESP). The search was apparently not organised in cooperation with the French anti-doping agency (AFLD). 

According to L’Équipe, police also searched the rooms of Colombian riders Dayer Quintana and Winner Anacona, as well the team’s soigneurs and the team cars. Ark­­éa-Samsic were staying near Méribel, after stage 17 to the Col de la Loze.

Quintana and the other Colombian riders joined Arkéa-Samsic ahead of the 2020 season after seven years with Movistar. He crashed again on stage 13 of the Tour and his podium challenge collapsed on the Grand Colombier two days later.

Quintana reached Paris in 17th place overall, his lowest finish in a Grand Tour since the 2012 Vuelta a España.

The UCI and Arkéa-Samsic react

On Monday night, the UCI released the following statement about the investigation, noting that they support the investigation and would take "appropriate measures" upon receipt of relevant information from the French authorities.

"The UCI confirms that it has been in communication with OCLAESP and the Cycling Antidoping Foundation (CADF) as part of the legal operations carried out by the French authorities on the sidelines of the Tour de France. The UCI welcomes and supports the action of all parties involved and will take the appropriate measures once it has taken note of the information obtained by the French legal authorities."

Later on, Arkéa-Samsic released a statement on the matter, with team manager Emmanuel Hubert saying that the investigation concerned "a very limited number of riders and their close relatives who are not employed by the team". He added that the team would "disassociate" itself from such acts if the investigation confirms that doping has taken place.

"A search was carried out last week in our hotel, as I have already confirmed with various media. It only involved a very limited number of riders and their close relatives who are not employed by the team," Hubert said.

"The team, its general manager as well as its staff, who are currently mentioned in the media, are not in any way implicated and consequently are not informed of any element, near or far, relating to the progress of the investigation, which, I remind you, is not aimed at the team or its staff directly.

"We obviously support our riders, but if it turns out that, at the end of the ongoing investigation, elements confirming the veracity of doping practices, the team will immediately disassociate itself from such acts and will immediately take the necessary measures to put an end to the links that could unite them with unacceptable methods that are still being fought against.

"Indeed, the team, as a member of the MPCC (the Movement For Credible Cycling), has always, over the last 20 years, demonstrated its commitment to ethics and taken a stand in favour of the fight against doping."