French police raided the hotel and bus of the Bahrain Victorious professional cycling team during the Tour de France, after prosecutors opened an investigation into allegations of doping by the team.
In a statement, Bahrain Victorious said he was greeted by police upon his arrival at the team’s hotel in Pau, southwestern France, at the end of stage 17 yesterday.
“The investigation involved a search of the runners’ rooms,” he said in a statement. “The team was also requested to provide all training records which were compiled and presented to officers as requested.”
Technical director Vladimir Miholjevic added that he would cooperate in a “professional manner”, but said the episode affected their riders’ preparation for today’s stage from Pau to Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees. The three-week race is due to end in Paris on Sunday.
Allegations of cheating have always been a hallmark of the sport. The Bahrain Victorious raid comes after a runner from another Gulf-sponsored team – runaway race leader Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates – had to repeatedly answer questions about his performance during this year’s race. The Slovenian rider’s response was to indicate the number of doping controls he undergoes.
The Bahrain Victorious raid will rekindle memories of past doping scandals on the Tour de France, many of which focused on the same town of Pau, near the foothills of the Pyrenees. These include the Festina case of 1998 which saw police raids on hotels against six teams. In 2007, the Astana team was excluded from the race after one of its runners, Alexander Vinokourov, suffered an illegal blood transfusion. In 2012, American runner Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven wins and was banned for life by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) on doping charges he did not dispute.
Last year, the French team Arkea-Samsic was the subject of an investigation by the Marseille prosecutor’s office.
There are several reasons why France is so often the scene of doping scandals. One is that the Tour de France is the sport’s most prestigious race, which motivates some to seek advantage by any means possible. In addition, unlike many other countries, doping is a criminal offense in France.
Bahrain’s victorious riders were also the subject of skeptical whispers from other teams after their performances in two other races earlier this year, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Giro d’Italia, as broadcast in the French newspaper Le Parisien last month.
Bahrain Victorious was established by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, son of the ruler of Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, in 2016. It is sponsored by a roll call of major state-owned companies in the country, including the fund ruler Mumtalakat. , telecommunications company Batelco and aluminum producer Alba.
Sheikh Nasser is a controversial figure in the sports world, having been accused of torturing athletes and other protesters during the country’s pro-democracy protests in 2011. The Bahraini government has consistently denied these allegations.