The UCI has announced that it has provisionally suspended Georg Preidler and Stefan Denifl in the wake of the Austrian riders' recent confessions to blood doping offences. The governing body had previously requested further information on their admissions, reported in the Austrian media on Sunday and Monday, before taking action.
On Sunday morning, it was reported that Denifl, formerly of Aqua Blue, had confessed to blood doping after being questioned by police as part of the 'Operation Aderlass' doping inquiry, which saw five Nordic skiers arrested during last week's World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. Austrian police have since confirmed the news.
Preidler quit the Groupama-FDJ team later on Sunday, having confessed to Austrian police that his blood drawn for a possible transfusion on two occasions in 2018. "I made a doping confession. I had my blood taken out but never put it back. But the thought and the fraudulent intent are already a crime," Preidler told Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung.
"The UCI has now received further information regarding the admissions made by Mr. Georg Preidler and Mr. Stefan Denifl," read a statement from the UCI on Monday.
"After review of all elements in its possession, the UCI has decided to provisionally suspend both riders with immediate effect pursuant to Article 7.9.3 of the UCI Anti-Doping Rules.
"The UCI will assist the Austrian National Anti-Doping Organisation (NADA) in the conduct of the disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Preidler and Mr. Denifl by NADA and will support all involved parties in the ongoing investigations. The UCI will not comment further on any of these matters."
Operation Aderlass is centred around the activities of Dr. Mark Schmidt, who is based in Erfurt, Germany. Schmidt was previously a doctor at the Gerolsteiner and Milram teams. He was accused of facilitating doping by Bernard Kohl when the Austrian rider tested positive for EPO in 2008 but was cleared after a trial.
It has been reported that 40 blood bags were discovered in a garage in Erfurt, Germany, and that Schmidt is ready to cooperate with investigators. As was the case in the Operacion Puerto inquiry in Spain, the blood bags are labelled with simple abbreviations, or code-names. Investigators hope to secure a court order to secure the DNA of the accused athletes so that the identity of the 40 blood bags can be confirmed.
Denifl rode for Cervélo TestTeam, Leopard Trek, IAM Cycling and Aqua Blue Sport during his career, enjoying his greatest success in 2017, when he won a stage at the Vuelta a España and the general classification at the Tour of Austria.
Following the demise of the Aqua Blue team, Denifl signed a contract with CCC in October only to rescind the deal by mutual consent in late December, citing personal reasons. CCC manager Jim Ochowicz told Cyclingnews that he had not been aware of Denifl's implication in a doping inquiry and said that the blood profile in his biological passport had not given the team cause for concern.
The 28-year-old Preidler turned professional with Argos-Shimano – now Team Sunweb – in 2013. He spent five years with the team before switching to Groupama-FDJ last year, where he won a stage of the Tour de Pologne and placed sixth overall.
Preidler was signed to be one of Thibaut Pinot's mountain domestiques, and the Frenchman expressed his disappointment in an interview with L’Equipe on Tuesday, describing Preidler's actions as a "betrayal."