Greg Van Avermaet has described the decision of the Belgian Cycling Federation’s disciplinary commission to clear him of doping charges as the most important victory of his season to date. The BMC rider risked a two-year ban for his links to Dr. Chris Mertens, the Belgian medic whose alleged practice of ozone therapy has been subject to a lengthy investigation in Belgium.
Van Avermaet was accused of using the corticoid Diprophos and the children’s medicine Vaminolat, which reportedly doubles as a masking agent, in 2012. Van Avermaet’s defence successfully argued that he had used the corticoid to treat a heel injury and that he had been prescribed Vaminolat but had never used the medicine, and he was acquitted at Thursday’s hearing. The UCI and WADA still have the right to appeal the case.
“This is THE victory of my early season,” Van Avermaet said after the hearing, according to the Belga news agency. “I’m very happy that all of this is finished. I tried not to show my emotions during these recent races but it was very difficult mentally. It certainly wasn’t pleasant to see my name in the newspapers for something I didn’t do. I didn’t dope and that’s clear now.”
News of Van Avermaet’s links to Dr. Mertens was first broken by Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad on the morning of the race of the same name in February. Van Avermaet succeeded in having his initial hearing date of March 16 postponed in order to focus on the spring classics, and that very day he won a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico in Arezzo.
Van Avermaet went on to finish third at both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and fifth at Amstel Gold Race. He finished second behind teammate Ben Hermans on the final stage of last week’s Tour de Yorkshire.
“Even if I was very focused on what I was doing, this kind of affair leaves a trace. It was a difficult period for me and for my family,” said Van Avermaet, who was flanked by his father and his lawyers. “When the people close to you hear so many things that they could doubt your integrity, it hurts and mentally that’s a heavy burden to carry.”
In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, the BMC team welcomed Van Avermaet’s acquittal and said that the verdict vindicated its decision not to withdraw him from racing until the case was settled.
"We never doubted Greg's innocence," general manager Jim Ochowicz said. "We are pleased with the decision."
The BMC team had previously twice withheld and then reactivated Alessandro Ballan during the Mantova doping investigation before the Italian was finally banned by the Italian Olympic Committee in January 2014.
Van Avermaet’s next race will be the Tour of Belgium at the end of May. He will also ride the Tour de Suisse and hope to earn selection for BMC’s Tour de France line-up. “I want to get good results to show that I am strong, honest and correct,” he said.