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Operation Aderlass: Denifl handed two-year prison sentence for fraud

Cycling: 99th Tour of Italy 2016 / Stage 15
Stefan DENIFL (AUT)/
Castelrotto / Kastelruth - Alpe Di Suisi / Seiseralm 1844m (10,8km)/
Time Trial ITT/ Giro / © Tim De Waele
Stefan Denifl riding for IAM Cycling at the 2016 GIro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Stefan Denifl has been handed a two-year prison sentence – 16 months of which are suspended – for serious commercial fraud relating to his doping during his time as a professional cyclist.

The Austrian, who was investigated as part of Operation Aderlass and confessed to blood doping in March 2019, was banned from cycling later that year and had his results from 2014 onwards stripped. He raced for IAM Cycling and Aqua Blue Sport during that time.

The sentence, which is not final, was handed down by a court in Innsbruck on Tuesday, according to Austrian media outlets. Denifl was also handed a fine of €349,000.

Denifl admitted to the main charge, which posited that he had secured contracts – and thus money from teams and sponsors – fraudulently, having admitted blood doping with the assistance of German doctor Mark Schmidt, the central figure in the Operation Aderlass investigation.

The 33-year-old denied a further charge of fraud relating to stashing money in the run-up to the trial, saying that he intended to invest in bitcoin and gold.

Operation Aderlass burst into the public consciousness in February 2019 when Austrian police raided athletes competing at the Nordic World Ski Championships. The investigation centred on Schmidt, who ran a medical clinic in Erfurt, Germany.

Within weeks, several cyclists were snared in the investigation, with Denifl the first rider to confess his involvement with the former Gerolsteiner and Milram doctor Schmidt, who had been accused of doping riders by Bernhard Kohl back in 2009.

Denifl had signed with CCC Team for 2019, though he terminated his contract with the team late in 2018 citing "personal reasons". He didn't make a return to cycling and was handed a four-year ban from the sport in June 2019.

His results from June 2014 through the end of his career, which included the king of the mountains title at the 2015 Tour de Suisse, the overall at the 2017 Tour of Austria, and stage 17 of the 2017 Vuelta a España, were all wiped after his ban.

Others involved in Operation Aderlass have included Groupama-FDJ rider Georg Preidler, UAE Team Emirates' Kristijan Durasek, and Austrian mountain biker Christina Kollmann, who were also handed four-year bans.

Bahrain-Merida riders Borut Božič and Kristijan Koren both received two-year bans, as did ex-pro Alessandro Petacchi, while Danilo Hondo has also confessed to his involvement. Denifl is the first person to receive a custodial sentence as a result of the investigation.