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Cyclo-cross riders reportedly linked to Belgian blood doping probe

Prosecutors recommend Dr Chris Mertens stand trial; files on 19 athletes, mostly cyclists, sent to anti-doping authorities

Cyclo-cross, which has remained relatively free of the doping scandals that have engulfed road racing in recent years, could find itself in the spotlight as a result of an investigation in Belgium into blood doping in sports.

According to Het Nieuwsblad, files on 19 athletes, mostly cyclists including cyclo-cross specialists, are to be passed to the relevant anti-doping authorities to decide whether disciplinary proceedings should be opened against them.

The newspaper cited an unnamed source linked to the investigation who said: “We believe they are guilty of doping offences.”

It says it is aware of the identities of those involved, adding that some are “famous,” although it has not published names either in its print edition or its website.

The case revolves around Dr Chris Mertens, who has been under investigation for the past two and a half years by the public prosecutor’s office in Leuven.

The latter has now recommended the case go to trial, with a court in Rotselaar reportedly due to decide whether to proceed by 14 November.

Mertens is alleged to have extracted athletes’ blood, manipulated it through enrichment with ozone, then transfused it back into their bodies.

One cyclist known to have been interviewed as part of the investigation is Tom Meeusen, who in 2013 lost his place in the Belgian team for the world championships after it emerged that prosecutors had called him as a witness regarding his links to Mertens.

In an interview with Bicycling magazine published in January 2013, two-time world champion Sven Nys said that the format of cyclo-cross races and its technical aspects meant there was less incentive to dope than in road racing.

The 38-year-old, who competed in road race in the off-season during a decade with the Rabobank team, said he had made the correct decision in focusing on cyclo-cross.

“So much happened in many of the [road] teams and I am happy to have just not been a part of that,” he said.

“Ok, I was on Rabobank and now we know there were problems in that team. But us cyclo-cross guys were apart.

“One of the things about cyclo-cross that I really like is that the races are short and intense, only one hour, and the technique is so important. Doping just can’t replace that,” he added.

Despite that assertion, cyclo-cross has suffered from occasional doping scandals.

In 2010, Polish brothers Pawel and Kacper Szczepaniak were banned for eight and four years respectively after testing positive for EPO following their one-two finish in the under-23 race at that year’s world championships.

After news of the positive tests broke, Kacper was reported to have attempted suicide, and the manager of their Telenet-Fidea team accusing Polish national coaches of encouraging the brothers to dope.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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