The leader of a Tour de France team caught up in a doping investigation said he had “nothing to hide” after two unnamed members of his French outfit were detained by officials.
“No doping substance has ever been found,” he said in a statement late on Tuesday. “I have nothing to hide and have never had anything to hide.”
Police detained two people associated with the Arkea-Samsic team on Monday. French daily Le Parisien reported that they were a doctor and physiotherapist. A source familiar with the matter told AFP that searches had targeted several riders including Quintana’s brother Dayer, as well as members of the medical team.
Police released the pair Tuesday night, and said the investigation will continue.
It is the most significant investigation in years for the repeatedly scandal-hit Tour, which wrapped up Sunday in Paris with a surprise victory for 21-year-old debutant Tadej Pogacar, the youngest winner in more than a century.
One major probe was in 1998, when customs officials stopped a vehicle laden with doping products and the Festina team was thrown off the race as the peloton headed into Paris. Most notoriously, US star rider Lance Armstrong, who won from 1999-2005, admitted doping in 2013 and was stripped of his record seven titles.
Prosecutor Dominique Laurens in the southern city of Marseille said the current investigation was targeting a “small part” of Arkea-Samsic. He added that the two detained had “many health products including drugs in their personal belongings, but also and above all a method that can be qualified as doping.”
The French team’s general manager Emmanuel Hubert told AFP he was supporting his athletes and that the probe involved only “a very limited number of riders,” as well as their close entourage who are not employed by the team.
“If it turned out that at the end of the current investigation, elements came to confirm the truth of doping practices, the team would immediately dissociate itself from such acts and would take the necessary measures without delay,” Hubert said. He added that the investigation “does not target the team or its staff directly.”
The prosecutor’s statement said the investigation is focused on the prescription of a substance or banned method for athletes, as well as help and encouragement in its use. The charges can lead to up to five years in prison and a 75,000-euro ($88,000) fine. Quintana finished the Tour in 17th place, more than an hour behind the winner Pogačar. Quintana’s teammate Warren Barguil finished in 14th place.
The probe will have come as a huge disappointment to organizers after positive headlines about the against-the-odds organization of the race and the drama that saw Pogačar seize victory late in the race. Many had predicted the COVID-19 pandemic would prevent the riders making it the 3,400 kilometres (2,100 miles) from the Mediterranean city of Nice to the French capital.
Comunicado oficial. pic.twitter.com/1Vj5kHwxD8
— NairoQuinCo (@NairoQuinCo) September 22, 2020
Full statement – translation:
In regard to the latest developments I would like to clarify the following:
The French gendarmerie carried out an operation in the hotel where my team was staying on Wednesday September 16 in Meribel, after the stage of the Tour de France had finished. On that day, the authorities entered my room and seized vitamin supplements that were perfectly legal, although perhaps unfamiliar to the French authorities. This is the main reason why it has taken time to clear up everything that happened.
To avoid any doubt, I would like to confirm that no doping substances were ever found.
I would also like to clear up a misunderstanding: neither during the recent Tour, nor during any previous races, I have never consulted assistants or staff who were not part of the team. I do not have, and have never had, anything to hide.
Yesterday, by appointment of the French authorities – and voluntarily – I appeared before the public prosecutor’s office to answer each and every one of their questions clearly and with a clear conscience. Regarding this, it must be stressed that I have not been the subject of any accusation by the authorities. For my part, I am, and I will be ready to answer any questions from the prosecutor, as I did on Monday and today.
I, Nairo Quintana, have been a clean cyclist throughout my sporting life and I have an impeccable biological passport. I want to make it clear to the public, to my fans and to the followers of cycling that never in all my career – junior, U23 and professional – have I used illegal substances that improve my sporting performance and that betray the principles of sport.
For the time being, a preliminary investigation is being carried out, I have answered all the questions and doubts and I am willing to continue doing so on a voluntary basis until the whole situation has been clarified on the basis that I have never used doping substances and no illegal substances were found in the police investigation.
I, without fear, will continue to be strong, I will defend the truth and I will continue on my way, even if the crowd, at times, takes another direction.