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Three Belgian cyclocross racers linked to an ongoing investigation into Dr. Chris Mertens’ use of ozone therapy must be allowed to race the upcoming World Cup and UCI world championships, the Belgian Court for Sport Arbitration (BAS) ruled on Friday.
Tom Meeusen, currently ranked fifth in the World Cup standings, Laurens Sweek, a medal hopeful in the U23 world championship, and longtime contender Bart Wellens have all been linked to Mertens, the doctor at the center of a two-year investigation into the use of ozone treatment, a banned form of blood manipulation. Sweek and Meeusen are likely to make the Belgian world championships squad; Wellens is less certain.
The Belgian federation pulled all three riders from its World Cup roster, and Meeusen and Sweek from its world championship roster, earlier this week over concerns that the UCI would ban the three from starting, thus forfeiting valuable start spots that could be filled by Belgians. UCI rules dictate that a rider under active investigation may not participate in cyclocross world championship events. They are free, however, to race other UCI-sanctioned events until the investigation is resolved.
However, the three racers do not appear to be under active investigation. Meeusen has been confirmed as a witness to the investigation. Though Sweek and Wellens have not been formally associated with the investigation, the Belgian federation apparently lumps them into the same category as Meeusen.
Following a late-night meeting on Thursday, BAS ruled that the three riders must be entered in the World Cup in Hoogerheide on Sunday. BAS ruled that the Belgian Federation’s rider selection must be based purely on “sporting criteria,” as the three riders are not under active investigation.
According to Belgian cyclocross site Veldritkrant.be, the Belgian Federation pulled the three riders from its rosters after a question from a Belgian journalist regarding the UCI rule caused a “panic.” The Belgian Federation’s Jos Smets inquired with Dr. Hans Cooman of the Flemish Anti-Doping Agency (NADO) as to whether the agency held any records relating to riders Belgium had selected for the World Cup and world championships. His answer was yes, Meeusen, Sweek, and Wellens.
The Belgian Federation then pulled the three riders off its rosters as a precautionary measure.
“Suppose we select them and the NADO comes a day before the World Cup with his files out, we have a bigger problem,” Veldritkrant quotes Smets as saying.
Meeusen has admitted to visiting Dr. Mertens, but insists it was for a sinus issue, not ozone therapy. “I went with Dr. Mertens to get rid of my sinus problem,” he told Belgian journalists. “And yes, I got injections for it. If that would be a mistake, this is the only one I would have made.”