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Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images (File).

Pinot, Kittel quick to denounce blood doping scandal

Top riders Thibaut Pinot and Marcel Kittel blast their former teammate who was ensnared in recent doping sting in Austria.

Two former teammates of Georg Preidler have been quick to condemn and express dismay at links to a growing blood doping scandal in Austria and Germany.

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) both raced with the Austrian climber during the past few seasons.

“This is high treason,” Pinot told L’Equipe after learning the news. “I’m trying to understand everything. I couldn’t train. I have too many questions.”

Last week in stunning news, Preidler and ex-pro Stefan Denifl both admitted to police they participated in doping activities linked to a growing scandal that’s resulted in a string of arrests in Germany and Austria.

While the focus of the ongoing investigation appears to be centered on Nordic skiing, the presence of two professional cyclists has stunned many inside the peloton.

Pinot was particularly shocked because the team recruited Preidler in 2018 to be one of the Frenchman’s key helpers in the mountains. Last year, Preidler raced with Pinot at both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, and most recently helped Pinot win the Tour du Haut Var in February.

“Right now, it appears there are only [seven] people, but it could be a lot bigger. We are waiting to see,” Pinot told L’Equipe. “I struggle to understand all of this.”

Preidler raced on the Sunweb franchise and most recently Groupama-FDJ, two teams with a strong anti-doping agenda and full members of the advocacy group MPCC. That apparently did not stop Preidler from falling to the temptation of blood doping (though it appears he’s only admitted so far that he extracted blood, but did not re-inject).

Groupama-FDJ boss Marc Madiot was disconsolate that one of his riders admitted to extracting blood.

“More efforts must be made,” a despondent Madiot told AFP. “The present situation confirms once again that we must stay vigilant. I trust the authorities to carry out this fight. We’ve already made a lot of progress, but obviously, there are still some efforts to go.”

Kittel, long a vocal critic of doping, raced with Preidler at Giant-Shimano (now Sunweb) from 2013-2015. Writing in a long message posted on his personal website, Kittel characterized the scandal as a “slap in the face” for clean athletes.

“As a pro cyclist, I am always confronted with the topic of doping. I can’t blame anyone for that, when you look at the history of cycling and other endurance sports,” Kittel wrote. “I am proud that this current case comes from the anti-doping law that I have supported. The severity of the law and police investigation methods are necessary against this kind of criminal energy.”

Kittel is particularly upset because it appears the center of the doping ring was based in his hometown of Erfurt, Germany.

According to media reports, police claim Mark Schmidt, a German doctor who formerly worked with the Milram and Gerolsteiner teams, was the alleged ringleader of the network. Police raids have netted 40 blood bags and confiscated doping equipment.

This week, the UCI suspended both Preidler and Denifl, and vowed to assist in the ongoing investigations.