Kristijan Koren and Borut Bozic handed two-year bans for doping

Kristijan Koren (Bahrain Merida)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kristijan Koren and Borut Božič, both part of the Bahrain-Merida team, have been issued with two-year bans for their links to the doping ring uncovered by Operation Aderlass.

Koren is a current professional rider for Bahrain-Merida, while Bozic works as a sport director after racing for the team in 2017 and 2018, his final years as a rider.

Having notified the Slovenian pair of potential anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) in May, the UCI announced on Wednesday that it has sanctioned them both with a period of ineligibility of two years.

Both infractions are given as "use of prohibited methods/substances", with Koren's relating to violations committed in 2011 and 2012, and Božič's to 2012.

According to the UCI, both ADRVs are "based on information received from the law enforcement authorities of Austria".

This refers to Operation Aderlass (or 'bloodletting' in English), which uncovered a doping ring around former Gerolsteiner doctor, Mark Schmidt, who was arrested in February after a raid on a clinic in Erfurt, Germany. The investigation came to light with the arrests of a number of skiers, though it wasn't long before pro cyclists were found to be involved.

The first rider confess to blood doping under the scheme was Stefan Denifl, who had signed with the CCC Team, while Groupama-FDJ's Georg Preidler soon admitted to having blood extractions. Both were banned for four years in June.

Just before the start of the 2019 Giro d'Italia, Danilo Hondo, a former rider with Lampre and RadioShack, admitted to blood doping, and more names were uncovered during the Giro itself. On the morning of stage 5, Koren and Božič were named by the UCI, along with Kristijan Durasek (UAE Team Emirates) and former Italian pro Alessandro Petacchi.

Koren rode for the Liquigas/Cannondale team from 2010 to 2014 and then stayed through to 2017 as the team merged with the Slipstream Sports set-up to form what is now EF Education First. He joined Bahrain-Merida in 2018 and rode the Tour de France for them before starting this year's Giro d'Italia. Božič, meanwhile, rode for Vanansoleil, Astana, and Cofidis before joining Bahrain-Merida in 2017. After two years, he retired to take up a role as sport director.

The bans are a further blow for Bahrain-Merida, after Kanstantsin Siutsou tested positive for EPO in 2018. 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.

When the UCI first publicised the ADRVs, Bahrain-Merida provisionally suspended Koren and Božič, saying they have a "zero-tolerance doping policy" and "always carriy out a thorough medical checks (including biological passport check) of any new signed rider". The team pointed out that "both cases relate to the 2012 and/or 2013 season" when Koren rode for the Liquigas-Cannondale and Cannondale teams, while Božič rode for Astana.

Last December, with McLaren powering into the sport as a main backer of the Bahrain team from 2020, it was disclosed to Cyclingnews that the investors had carried out due diligence and worked closely with the UCI before making a major financial commitment to the sport.

"We spent a lot of time this year around doing due diligence and the nature of the opportunity," Chief Marketing Officer John Allert said.

"Nothing is ever 100 per cent sure, but we sought and received assurances from the UCI as to what the sport is doing. The reaction from both the Bahrain-Merida team and the UCI to anything that's happened throughout the season has underscored the commitment that both those parties have. That was reassuring to us as part of our due diligence."

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