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Milan Erzen tells VeloNews that the string of targeted anti-doping raids made against his Bahrain Victorious team stem from nothing more than jealousy within professional cycling.
Speaking at the conclusion of the Tour de France, the team boss took questions from VeloNews and Cycling Weekly on the Champs Elysees in regards to the systematic and coordinated doping raids that hit Bahrain Victorious in 2021 and again before the 2022 Tour.
On Sunday in Paris, as his riders finished the 2022 Tour without a stage win or a GC result of note, Erzen spoke about the state of the high-profile investigation.
“We don’t know [latest]. We don’t have any answers. I cannot tell you anything because we don’t have any information. I don’t know, really it’s difficult to explain something if you don’t have any information. When we have something of course we will say. We are just waiting,” he said.
“We don’t know why all these things have happened. Let’s sort it out now. We know some answers that until now we didn’t know, and we always work by the rules and we will continue hard working and training hard.”
Between June 27-30, some 14 locations belonging to riders and staff were searched across six countries. That also includes the dawn raids that took place on the Thursday before the Tour started at the Bahrain Victorious hotel.
Eurojust, an organization that works alongside Europol, stated on the eve of the Tour that “in Slovenia, 412 capsules with undetermined brown content and 67 capsules with undetermined white content were found, and one mobile phone was seized in a house search.”
Those capsules are still being analyzied along with other property that was seized for intelligence and evidence purposes. The team has repeatedly stated that they have not broken any rules and that the searches were not warranted.
The team were reluctant to talk about the investigation during the Tour de France. VeloNews asked to speak to Matej Mohorič and Damiano Caruso at several points during the race, but according to a team press officer, the riders were unwilling to take questions from VeloNews due to earlier reporting of the raids. The riders were willing to talk to other outlets about the race.
“Look, of course it’s frustrating, but from the other side, finally people need to understand that all these results, speed of the races, it’s not that somebody is using something,” Erzen said as made his team’s position clear.
“Guys that are working really hard. Material in the last 10 years has changed a lot, the teams they invest a lot of money. Researches, what kind of tyres, what kind of wheels they will use in the races, you will have always jealous people which will start thinking that something is wrong. Nothing is wrong. In the last 10 years, anyone who is thinking to use something needs to be an idiot. That’s it. They need to be an idiot.”
Erzen was then asked by VeloNews if his team was 100 percent clean: “We never talk about these things because we are working by the rules, we never broke any rules about that.”
A follow up question was asked as to whether there was a degree of jealously behind the situation, pointing to completely unsubstantiated reports that the information that was fed to the anti-doping authorities was fake and created in order to trap certain French journalists.
“Yes, yes, yes. I will explain to you that, for example, our budget is 20 million, and many of the teams they have a bigger budget than us, and they cannot win stages for 10 years at the Tour de France.
“The sponsors ask the general manager, who have a huge amount of money, why some other teams are winning races with less money, and we cannot win the races. What will he answer? That’s your question? What will he answer? We know somebody is saying something behind.”
Erzen was also asked about UCI President David Lappartient’s direct comments that were made towards the Slovenian before the raids in June.
In an interview with VeloNews the Frenchman said of Erzen: “He’s probably not the one who I would appoint as the chairman of the ITA (International Testing Agency).”
“There are some legal points. His name was mentioned in the Aderlass affair from what I saw [ed. Erzen has denied all ties and wrongdoing]. I don’t know where it is. I would love for the Austrian authorities to go until the end of this investigation and then take some decisions but as of today we have nothing consistent in our hands to take some decisions so it’s up to the owners of the different teams to take the decisions that they need to take.”
Lappartient also told VeloNews back in April: “On this date, I have no proof or evidence, nothing to pull him out of the sport but I want a sport that is clean, and I don’t want anyone who is involved in potential doping. As of today I have no proof, evidence, nothing, except some mentions in newspapers. It seems like nothing has come from the Aderlass affair. But I hope that it does come one day.”
When Erzen was asked about the notion of the UCI President wanting him out of the sport he said: “I cannot comment, they are his words. I cannot comment, I don’t want to comment because he is president of the UCI, and we are part of the UCI and we will always do it the right way, that means we will prove we are not doing anything wrong.”
The team saw Jack Haig crash out and Damiano Caruso leave in the third week with COVID-19. Fred Wright made it into several breaks during the race but the team were unable to match their two-stage win haul and teams classification triumph from twelve months ago.
According to Erzen the team were missing luck and a few percent.
“We missed a couple of percent, but now when you are doing research we think some of the guys did have COVID already from the beginning of the race, it doesn’t matter if we test them or not. I think this cost us a lot of results. The second thing is the COVID case with Gino [Mader] at the Tour de Suisse, a crash with Jack Haig. All this cost us for better results. But in the last four grand tours, we have been the best team in three grand tours, on the podium three times and we need to be happy with the last one-and-a-half years,” he said.
“Also this year the race was really hard, there is almost no breakaway at the end, Fred was many times in a good position, Luis León Sánchez he was close to a victory. If we had a little bit of luck maybe we would have won three stages. That’s life, we need to be focused.”