Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), just days after riding onto the Paris-Roubaix podium in third place, appeared Thursday before the anti-doping commission of the Belgian Cycling Federation (RLVB).
Van Avermaet, 29, is under the spotlight for links to doctor Chris Mertens, who has been dubbed the “ozone doctor” in the Belgian media.
The Belgian media reported Thursday that Van Avermaet appeared with lawyers before the commission and maintained his innocence.
“It’s awful having to defend yourself against this type of thing,” Van Avermaet said. “It’s a stain on my reputation. And I’m an honest man and I’m hoping for a just decision.”
In question is whether or not Van Avermaet used products that are not prohibited, but could still draw a suspension.
He is suspected of having procured the cortisone Diprophos between 2009-2012 from Belgian doctor Chris Mertens. The product is banned during competition but not out of competition, if administered with a medical certificate from the UCI. There are also questions as to whether Van Avermaet used Vaminolact, a recovery product that could be employed as a masking agent; athletes may also use this, under certain conditions.
Belgian prosecutor Jaak Fransen, from the federation, is asking for a two-year ban and a fine of $275,000 as well as disqualification of all results since 2012.
Sporza, the Belgian TV sports channel, reported the foundation of the case is email communication between Van Avermaet and Dr. Mertens. Despite headlines, Van Avermaet is not being accused of undergoing ozone gas treatments, a controversial practice when blood is extracted, injected with ozone, and re-injected into the body.
Van Avermaet is not sidelined from competition, and is expected to start Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands.
In a statement, BMC said it was aware of the hearing and will not keep Van Avermaet from racing.
“The BMC Racing Team is aware of today’s hearing by the Belgian Cycling Federation, Koninklijke Belgische Wielrijdersbond, in which Greg Van Avermaet appeared in relation to the investigation of Dr. Chris Mertens.
“Based on information currently available to the BMC Racing Team, Van Avermaet will not be withheld from competition.
“No further statements about the case will be made by team officials prior to a decision being rendered by the Belgian Cycling Federation on May 7.”
Belgian cycling officials will now consider the case before deciding whether or not to move forward with formal disciplinary action that could lead to a possible racing ban. That decision could take several more weeks.
“This was about riding on cortisone, not about healing an injury,” claimed Franzen. “The tone of emails shows a typical attitude of performance enhancement that was prevalent at the time.”
BMC had 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, BMC says that 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.
Speaking to journalists last month at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Van Avermaet insisted on his innocence. “I am a clean and pure rider,” he said. “I haven’t done anything that was not allowed, so I am not worried.”
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.