Two new doping enquiries in Belgium have blown up just days before this year’s Tour de France is due to get under way, involving men with links to two teams competing in the race, Omega Pharma-Lotto and BMC Racing, which have been quick to distance themselves from the individuals concerned.
Ex-professional Wim Vansevenant is under investigation for importing doping products to his native Belgium, where a sometime BMC Racing soigneur whose name is given only as Sven S is currently being held in a cell in relation to the interception two years ago of a package of EPO apparently meant for him.
Vansevenant, Tour de France lanterne rouge a record three times during his own career, had been due to drive the Omega Pharma-Lotto VIP bus during this year’s Tour, but will not now do so.
AFP reports that the former Lotto rider had been questioned for four hours on Tuesday after a package from Australia was intercepted containing products aimed at building muscle mass and increasing endurance.
Yesterday, Vansevenant was protesting his innocence, saying: "I ordered by internet what I thought was amino acids.
"I wanted them to improve my own physical condition. I've been told it's doping products, but I don't know anything about it.
"I've heard they haven't even analysed what is in the vials, so how can they be so sure? In any case, I didn't buy these products with a view to doping."
World number 1 Philippe Gilbert was quick to put distance between his team and Vansevenant, telling AFP yesterday: "I want to affirm in the strongest possible way that this story has absolutely nothing to do with me or my team."
"Trying to link this person with us has come from the imagination of someone whose intentions are misplaced."
Gilbert, who is expected to challenge for stage wins in the opening week of the Tour and who earlier this season became only the second man to win all three Ardennes Classics in the same season, continued: "I heard the news this morning... and it was a big shock to me because this kind of news shouldn't even exist whilst cycling is making huge efforts to get rid of doping,"
However, he acknowledged that Vansevenant’s links to the team would inevitably lead people to jump to conclusions.
"The worst thing is the connections people will make,” he said. “Today I even feel victimised because people will start associating my name with this rider. My only error is to wear the same jersey once worn by this guy."
The rider, who turns 29 next Wednesday, concluded: "I want to reassure my supporters. I will start the Tour de France with even more motivation, and I'll be ready to fight to demonstrate my integrity."
The other case being investigated in Belgium is said to involve a certain Sven S, who does not appear to be listed as a permanent member of BMC Racing staff but is believed to have helped out occasionally at races including the Giro di Toscana.
According to French newspaper Le Figaro citing Belgian press reports, this case is said to date back to the seizure of a package containing 195 doses of EPO at Bierset airport in Belgium in October 2009. The package was addressed to the wife of Sven S.
The suspect, whose home has been searched in recent days, has reportedly confessed to Belgian authorities that he intended to import the products, which originated in the Netherlands, into the country and that they were intended for personal use as he sought to relaunch his own cycling career.
Quoted in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Jim Ochowicz, owner of BMC Racing, said: “I don’t know this man. An occasional soigneur for us? That means nothing to me. I’ve no knowledge of an arrest. That’s the first time I’ve heard about this.”
The team’s own website, however, does mention a Sven Schoutteten as soigneur during the Giro di Toscana, believed to be the same Sven S under investigation in Belgium.
Meanwhile, the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf has reported that in the wake of the revelations concerning Vansevenant, vehicles from a number of teams were stopped and searched at a motorway service station near Nantes as they headed towards the Vendée ahead of Saturday's Grand Départ.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.