By VeloNews Interactive, With wire services

De Clerq leads a Belgian sweep at world's in Zolder in 2002

De Clerq leads a Belgian sweep at world’s in Zolder in 2002

Photo: Graham Watson

Former three-time world cyclo-cross champion Mario De Clercq has been banned from the sport for four years and cyclo-cross rider Ben Berden for 15 months, the Belgian cycling association (LRVB) announced Wednesday.

De Clercq, who retired in November 2004, was involved in the so-called”Jose Landuyt affair,” a scandal involving a veterinarian who admittedselling performance-enhancing drugs.

Berden is banned until April 2006 after testing positive for the bloodbooster EPO (erythropoietin) in a cyclo-cross competition in Essen, Germanyin December.

De Clercq’s lawyer Peter Callebaut said the ban was unfair and promisedan appeal.

“This is a heavy punishment because my client has not done anything,”Callebaut said. “Everything is based on conversations only. The Belgiancycling association can’t prove he used or owned doping products.”

Belgian cycling officials said they stood by the decision.

“I find (Callebaut’s) comment a bit bizarre,” Tom Van Damme, the LRVB’scommunications director, told Reuters. “People must know that Landuyt’sdossier was sent by the district attorney of the city of Kortrijk to thesports minister for the Flemish Community, who sent it to our association.It is not a light procedure. And who would start such a procedure if therewere no solid elements to do so?”

De Clercq’s suspension follows that of Johan Musseuw, who was bannedlast October for two years for his involvement in the same doping scandal.Musseuw, a renowned classics rider – a three-time winner of Paris-Roubaix- retired last April.A criminal case against Landuyt is pending in Belgian courts.