Further reports in Le Monde and Corriere della Sera have implicated Milan Erzen with the doctor at the center of the Operation Aderlass doping investigation.
Erzen is already under investigation with the UCI, with Cyclingnews confirming on Wednesday that the sport’s governing body were looking into the Bahrain-Merida managing director. Erzen has denied any contact between himself and the UCI and on Wednesday told Cyclingnews that “all and any implications regarding my involvement in Aderlass are absolutely false and unfounded.”
However, on Thursday Le Monde reported that information provided to them showed that the investigators at the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) – the anti-doping arm of the UCI – had documentation that Erzen made contact with Mark Schmidt, via a Croatian intermediary, to purchase a centrifuge - a piece of equipment used in blood transfusions to separate red cells from plasma. Bahrain-Merida had no comment this morning in relation to the fresh allegations. The UCI have also not responded.
Schmidt was arrested in February at his office in Germany having been accused of running a blood doping network that stretched across Nordic skiing, cycling and other sports. Several of the athletes implicated came from Slovenia and Croatia, as well as a number of other countries, with a total of 21 athletes identified as part of the doping ring.
Erzen was instrumental in setting up the Bahrain-Merida team, and although he is not listed as a member of staff on the squad’s website, he is regarded as the key figure behind the scenes and regularly signs his emails as the managing director. He trained the founder of the team - Prince Nasser ben Hamed Al-Khalifa – for a triathlon and has worked closely with the Prince in training his horses.
In total there are six Slovenian riders on the Bahrain-Merida team, plus head sports director and former rider Goradz Stangelj, sports director and former rider Borut Bozic, team doctor Marjan Korsic, and other staff. Earlier this month the UCI moved quickly to suspend Bozic and current Bahrain-Merida rider Kristijan Koren, along with Kristijan Durasek and Alessandro Petacchi, for their links to Operation Aderlass after details of the Europol police investigation were published by Corriere della Sera and Le Monde.
Erzen has worked with a large number of professional riders from his native Slovenia, including Giro d’Italia race favourite Primoz Roglic, who raced for Eržen’s Adria Mobil Continental team between 2013 and 2015.
Last week Roglic described the Slovenian connection to Operation Aderlass as ‘sad’.
Cyclingnews understands that the Bahrain-Merida management are currently considering their next steps. McLaren, who came on board as a major shareholder with a 50 per cent stake in the team at the start of the year, have not released an official comment on the story. The team were set to have a shake up in management in the coming months, with Rod Ellingworth moving over from Team Ineos. This was unrelated to the Aderlass case, with Ellingworth set to take up control of the Bahrain-Merida team in the coming months. Last week Team Ineos confirmed that Ellingworth had left the team with immediate effect.
A Team INEOS spokesperson said: ‘As was reported in mid-April, Rod Ellingworth has decided to move on. With the recent change of ownership of the Team, we have agreed with Rod that he can leave with immediate effect. Everyone at the Team thanks Rod for his service and contribution during his time with us.’