The Belgian doctor is under investigation for providing ozone therapy, a controversial treatment where blood is extracted, infused with ozone and then re-injected. The process has been purported to help clear certain infections, but is dangerous and there is no scientific evidence for any benefits of ozone therapy.
The news regarding Van Avermaet has been reported by a number of Belgian publications this morning, with Van Avermaet looking set to defend himself against allegations of doping. Het Nieuwsblad claim that the BMC rider could face up to a two-year ban due to offences dating back to 2011, however the publication state that the rider has not been accused of taking EPO or steroids.
Van Avermaet has not made a statement on the matter but his BMC Racing team officially confirmed that they would allow the Belgian to carry on racing for the immediate future.
“The BMC Racing Team was notified Friday by the Belgian Cycling Federation, Koninklijke Belgische Wielrijdersbond, that Greg Van Avermaet has been requested to appear in relation to the investigation of Dr. Chris Mertens,” the team’s statement read.
“The team has been aware of the investigation of Dr. Mertens from various stories published in the press, but until Friday, February 27, had not confirmed that one of the Team's riders would be required to appear.”
"An ongoing internal investigation is being conducted by the team, and at the present time, no information has been obtained that indicates rules have been violated. The Team is aware that Van Avermaet was treated by Dr. Mertens, but is unaware of any treatments that would be in violation of any rules. Based on the information available to the team at the present time, no decision has been made to remove Van Avermaet from active status.”
Van Avermaet will therefore line up for Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a race in which he finished second in 2014. Van Avermaet comes into the Classics campaign as BMC leader for a number of high-profile races, including the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“The Team will continue its investigation and will evaluate new information at such time as it becomes available. Out of respect for Van Avermaet, the Team will not comment further on the matter at the present time.”
The preliminary stages of Van Avermaet’s situation echo Alessandro Ballan’s time with the team. The Italian was accused on doping in 2009 while at Lampre. Allegations surfaced when the Italian rode for the BMC in 2011 and BMC refused to bench the rider until evidence had been made public in the Mantova investigation. Ballan was eventually suspended by the team and the Italian cycling federation.
The Belgian investigation dates back to early 2013, when Telenet-Fidea rider Tom Meeusen was questioned as a patient of Mertens and kept out of several cyclo-cross races. Meeusen insisted his visits to the doctor were not related to doping. Lotto Belisol's Jurgen Van Den Broeck also said that he has visited the doctor, but only for legitimate medical purposes.
So far one rider has been suspended as part of the investigation. Pieter Van Herck, a former teammate of Belgian champion Sven Nys, was banned for two years as a result of the probe in June of 2013.