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Cyclo-cross riders reportedly linked to Belgian blood doping probe

Prosecutors recommend Dr Chris Mertens stand trial; files on 19 athletes, mostly cyclists, sent to anti-doping authorities

Cyclo-cross, which has remained relatively free of the doping scandals that have engulfed road racing in recent years, could find itself in the spotlight as a result of an investigation in Belgium into blood doping in sports.

According to Het Nieuwsblad, files on 19 athletes, mostly cyclists including cyclo-cross specialists, are to be passed to the relevant anti-doping authorities to decide whether disciplinary proceedings should be opened against them.

The newspaper cited an unnamed source linked to the investigation who said: “We believe they are guilty of doping offences.”

It says it is aware of the identities of those involved, adding that some are “famous,” although it has not published names either in its print edition or its website.

The case revolves around Dr Chris Mertens, who has been under investigation for the past two and a half years by the public prosecutor’s office in Leuven.

The latter has now recommended the case go to trial, with a court in Rotselaar reportedly due to decide whether to proceed by 14 November.

Mertens is alleged to have extracted athletes’ blood, manipulated it through enrichment with ozone, then transfused it back into their bodies.

One cyclist known to have been interviewed as part of the investigation is Tom Meeusen, who in 2013 lost his place in the Belgian team for the world championships after it emerged that prosecutors had called him as a witness regarding his links to Mertens.

In an interview with Bicycling magazine published in January 2013, two-time world champion Sven Nys said that the format of cyclo-cross races and its technical aspects meant there was less incentive to dope than in road racing.

The 38-year-old, who competed in road race in the off-season during a decade with the Rabobank team, said he had made the correct decision in focusing on cyclo-cross.

“So much happened in many of the [road] teams and I am happy to have just not been a part of that,” he said.

“Ok, I was on Rabobank and now we know there were problems in that team. But us cyclo-cross guys were apart.

“One of the things about cyclo-cross that I really like is that the races are short and intense, only one hour, and the technique is so important. Doping just can’t replace that,” he added.

Despite that assertion, cyclo-cross has suffered from occasional doping scandals.

In 2010, Polish brothers Pawel and Kacper Szczepaniak were banned for eight and four years respectively after testing positive for EPO following their one-two finish in the under-23 race at that year’s world championships.

After news of the positive tests broke, Kacper was reported to have attempted suicide, and the manager of their Telenet-Fidea team accusing Polish national coaches of encouraging the brothers to dope.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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mrmo | 9 years ago

lets hope we get to hear about ALL 19 suspects, and not like puerto where tennis players, footballers etc were conveniently forgotten whist attention was placed solely on the cyclists.

Edgeley | 9 years ago

Meantime, it is good that a) people are getting caught and b) that other sports are also catching up with cycling and hence demonstrating that cycling isn't uniquely bad - the Boston marathon winner has got suspended for EPO use.

Comrade | 9 years ago

Unless of course it is a simple misunderstanding, I reckon they might have tried out that "new" coffee on the market!

Airzound replied to Comrade | 9 years ago
Comrade wrote:

Unless of course it is a simple misunderstanding, I reckon they might have tried out that "new" coffee on the market!


DavidC | 9 years ago

This raises a separate, important aspect of doping in cycling: ozone enrichment of blood is pure quackery, as useful/useless as homeopathy, so not really "doping" considering that as it has no effect. However, it points to the desperate, idiotic lengths athletes will go to in the search for improved performance. Riders need to be protected from their own ambition, and from their own stupidity.

Cyclists in this case could be disciplined under UCI's "13.1.062 The injection of any substance to any site of a rider’s body is prohibited unless all of the following conditions are met:
1. The injection must be medically justified based on latest recognized scientific knowledge and evidence based medicine..."

truffy replied to DavidC | 9 years ago
DavidC wrote:

not really "doping" considering that as it has no effect.

But does resorting to it reveal an intent to cheat? Or is it sold under another guise?

DavidC replied to truffy | 9 years ago
truffy wrote:

But does resorting to it reveal an intent to cheat? Or is it sold under another guise?

Ozone therapy is sold under a number of guises including as a treatment for viral infection, but I'd be shocked if in this situation it wasn't used with intention to cheat.

However, the users may claim innocence by expressing some sort of ideal of using 'natural' therapy, such as Sylvain Georges did when he mistakenly consumed heptatminol, having admittedly taken ginkor fort (a 'natural remedy') to improve the circulation in his legs.

Georges tried to claim some sort of moral high ground by saying he used homeopathic remedies and he lived 'as naturally as possible for my sport. I have always detested doping... I never tried to cheat and will do everything to prove I didn't,' even though he had just admitted that he took a substance expressly for the purpose of improving his performance. Of course sports journalists didn't have the wherewithal to call him or Vincent ('there was no intention to dope') Lavenu out on this blatant contradiction.

So let's see what comes out of this case of quackery in sport.

manmachine | 9 years ago

 21  21  21 Vive le Doping!!!
Oh the silly hearted, mopsy-flopsy minded muppets...
thinking that doping will ever stop. LMFAO!

Statism is a mental disorder you know...but I'm not sure if there's a 6 or 12 step program for that!  24  24  24

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