Bahrain Victorious have confirmed that the homes of a number of riders and team staff were searched by police before their departure for the Tour de France.
The team suggested the searches were part of the ongoing police investigation that saw members of the team searched during the 2021 Tour de France.
Last October the team shrugged off suggestions that hair testing on three of their riders searched by French police during the Tour de France have discovered traces of the powerful muscle relaxant Tizanidine.
A statement from the Marseille prosecutor's office at the time of the searches said the investigation concerned the possible “acquisition, transportation, possession and importing of a prohibited substance or method for use by an athlete without justification by members of Team Bahrain Victorious.
Spanish website Ciclo21 (opens in new tab) suggested that the European Union Agency for Police Cooperation (Europol) co-ordinated the searches at the homes of team staff in Slovenia, Poland and Spain, including that of team manager Milan Erzen.
Erzen’s was unavailable when contacted by Cyclingnews, his mobile phone apparently switched off.
The Bahrain Victorious line-up for this year’s Tour de France includes Damiano Caruso, Jack Haig, Matej Mohoric, Luis Leon Sanchez, Dylan Teuns, Jan Tratnik, Fred Wright and Kamil Gradek. It is not clear if any of their homes were searched.
Last October the team shrugged off suggestions that hair testing on three of their riders searched by French police during the Tour have discovered traces of the powerful muscle relaxant Tizanidine.
The substance is not prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency but the test results could indicate off-label use of the medicine.
Sonny Colbrelli has suggested the searches carried out at the 2021 Tour was sparked by “pure jealousy”, suggesting an atmosphere of suspicion in the sport leads people to suspect every strong performance.
Mohoric won two stages in the 2021 Tour de France and placed a finger to his lips as he crossed the line Le Creusot to symbolically silence the team’s critics.
“I still find it a bit weird that even in the year 2021 they still believe we are doing something illegal,” Mohoric said.
As the Grand Depart of the 2022 Tour de France nears, the investigation has taken another step but Bahrain Victorious claimed the searches were done to intentionally damaging the team’s reputation.
“Some riders and staff of Team Bahrain Victorious had Police search their homes today before their departure to the Tour de France,” the Bahrain Victorious team said in a statement.
“Team Bahrain Victorious always works based on the highest standards of professionalism in sports, including the integrity of all professional members and competitors. The team cooperates constructively in all procedures and with all competent institutions.
“The investigation into the members of the team, which started almost a year ago and did not yield any results, continues just before the start of the most important cycling race, the Tour de France, and damages the reputation of individuals and Team Bahrain Victorious. Due to recent investigations, the team feels the timing of this investigation is aimed at intentionally damaging the team’s reputation.”
“At no time, and so far, have the team been informed of the progress, results or received any feedback about the investigation from the Marseilles Prosecutor’s Office. Bahrain Victorious has repeatedly requested access to the file or acquaintance with the state of investigation but without success."
Last October French researchers revealed details of the hair test they created for Tizanidine in a document published in the Wiley Analytical Science Journal.
The research document, seen by Cyclingnews, says: “During an international three-week cycling race in France, a special public health division of the police controlled a whole team. In addition to the control of the rooms and the medical devices and products by the police, a trained forensic pathologist was requested to collect head hair specimens from seven cyclists.”
The team pushed back against the work of the Marseille police and continued to do so after the latest searches.
“Moreover, shortly after the investigation was carried out, the investigators illegally provided information regarding the seized items, on the basis of which an article was published in a professional medical journal, the team's lengthy statement said.
"The journal stated that the team did not possess illicit substances. Still, this behaviour of the investigators casts doubt on the investigation’s credibility, given that information about the investigation by the French authorities comes to the media. In contrast, the team does not receive any feedback.
“After almost a year of unsuccessful efforts by the team to obtain additional information, the investigators decided on new investigations just days before the start of the most important cycling race, which undoubtedly casts a shadow of doubt on the purpose of the investigation.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.