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Several staff and riders at Bahrain-Victorious saw their residences searched by police on Monday, just days ahead Tour de France.
According to reports, the searches were conducted across several countries, including Slovenia, Poland, and Spain, with the European Union Agency for Police Cooperation (Europol) conducting the operations.
The team stated that the raids were directly linked to the hotel searches that took place at last year’s Tour, when 50 police officers descended on the Bahrain-Victorious hotel in July.
The team would not comment as to which riders and staff had their properties raided by the authorities, but reports have indicated that Milan Erzen, the team manager, had his home in Slovenia raided. VeloNews spoke to riders Matej Mohorič and Jan Tratnik, with both riders claiming that their properties had not been searched. Mohorič and Tratnik are set to race the Tour de France on July 1.
Erzen did not return calls when contacted by VeloNews, while his understudy, Vladimir Miholjević, initially denied the story when contacted by VeloNews earlier in the day, saying that he had no knowledge of the raids.
However, the team seemed to reverse its position several hours later with a withering statement against the raids and the motives behind them.
“Some riders and staff of team Bahrain Victorious had police search their homes today before their departure to the Tour de France,” the team said in a statement.
During last year’s Tour, the team saw its hotel raided by the French police, with more than 50 plain-clothed police officers taking part in the raids. Soon after the raids, the French police confirmed that it had opened a preliminary investigation into possible doping allegations at the team, but no charges have yet been made.
The police at the time stated that it was investigating the possible: “acquisition, transportation, possession and importing of a prohibited substance or method for use by an athlete without justification by members of Team Bahrain Victorious, currently in action at the 2021 Tour de France.”
The investigation was led by the Office Central de Lutte contre les Atteintes à l’Environnement et la Santé Publique (OCLAESP).
The team’s statement on Monday claimed that the investigation was targeted in order to “damage the reputation of individuals” and the squad.
“Team Bahrain Victorious always works based on the highest standards of professionalism in sports, including the integrity of all professional members and competitors. The team cooperates constructively in all procedures and with all competent institutions,” a statement read.
“The investigation into the members of the team, which started almost a year ago and did not yield any results, continues just before the start of the most important cycling race, the Tour de France, and damages the reputation of individuals and team Bahrain Victorious. Due to recent investigations, the team feels the timing of this investigation is aimed at intentionally damaging the team’s reputation.
“The house searches experienced today by members from team Bahrain Victorious represent a continuation of the investigation process that began during the team’s successful performances at last year’s Tour de France. Bahrain Victorious were the only team in the Tour de France under investigation during the race last year.
“At no time, and so far, have the team been informed of the progress, results or received any feedback about the investigation from the Marseilles Prosecutor’s Office. Bahrain Victorious has repeatedly requested access to the file or acquaintance with the state of investigation but without success.”
The team also hit out the manner of the investigation, making several unsubstantiated claims about the use of the information gained from the 2021 hotel raids.
“Moreover, shortly after the investigation was carried out, the investigators illegally provided information regarding the seized items, on the basis of which an article was published in a professional medical journal. The journal stated that the team did not possess illicit substances. Still, this behaviour of the investigators casts doubt on the investigation’s credibility, given that information about the investigation by the French authorities comes to the media. In contrast, the team does not receive any feedback.
“After almost a year of unsuccessful efforts by the team to obtain additional information, the investigators decided on new investigations just days before the start of the most important cycling race, which undoubtedly casts a shadow of doubt on the purpose of the investigation.
“The team have always cooperated completely transparently with all competent institutions and will continue to do so in the future, with the hope of greater transparency and a sense of the independence of investigators, as well as equal treatment of all teams.”