PARIS (Reuters) - Cycling has been thrown into fresh turmoil after French judicial authorities opened a preliminary investigation into potential doping at Nairo Quintana’s team Arkea-Samsic on Monday, a day after the Tour de France ended in Paris.
Two people had been taken into custody, Marseille prosecutor Dominique Laurens said, adding that the probe was targeting a “small part of the team” and that those in custody were part of the “close entourage of the main rider”, without naming him.
Laurens added on Tuesday that the two were still being held for questioning and that a decision on whether they would be formally charged would be made on Wednesday.
Arkea-Samsic’s leader on the Tour was Colombian Quintana, twice a runner-up and also a Vuelta and Giro d’Italia champion. He finished 17th overall on this year’s Tour.
The French team confirmed that their hotel in Meribel was searched by the OCLAESP, the Central Office for the Fight against Environmental and Public Health Damage, after last Wednesday’s 17th stage.
Laurens said the search had resulted in the “discovery of many health products, including drugs and especially a method that can be qualified as doping”.
A source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters that a “saline solution” and “injection material” were found.
“The elements gathered during the search will need further investigation and analysis,” Laurens said in a statement on Tuesday.
Injection material can only be in possession of doctors as per the ‘no needle policy’ in place in cycling since 2011.
Arkea-Samsic team manager Emmanuel Hubert said on Monday that the investigation did “not target the team or its staff directly”.
Quintana, who was allowed to continue working with his own doctor when he signed a three-year deal with Arkea-Samsic this year, later denied using any banned substances and said he had voluntarily answered investigators’ questions with “a clear conscience”.
“I want to tell my fans and followers of cycling that never in my career as a junior, under-23 or professional have I used illegal substances that improve my performance or betray the principles of the sport,” he said in a statement posted on his Twitter account.
Quintana said only “perfectly legal vitamin supplements” had been found in the search last week.
This year’s Tour was won by Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, who produced one of the most stunning performances in recent history in the final time trial last Saturday.
The 22-year-old is with Team UAE Emirates, which is managed by Mauro Gianetti and Matxin Fernandez, sports directors at Saunier Duval in 2008 when the team left the Tour in the wake of Ricardo Ricco’s failed doping test.
The duo were also managing the Geox-TMC team when Spaniard Juan Jose Cobo won the Vuelta in 2011, only to be stripped of the title because of a “violation of the anti-doping rules (use of a banned substance) based on irregularities found in his Athlete Biological Passport in 2009 and 2011”.
“I am too young to remember that era,” said Pogacar when asked about his entourage at UAE Emirates.
“I was 10 in 2008 and it’s weird to be talking about this because it goes against everything I believe in.”
The last notable rider to fail a doping test on the Tour was Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck in 2012.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Editing by Peter Rutherford/Christian Radnedge/Ken Ferris
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