French police detained two people on Monday as part of an investigation into suspected doping at this year’s Tour de France in the Arkea-Samsic team, prosecutors announced.
The probe is the first significant one in several years for the repeatedly scandal-hit tour which wrapped up on Sunday in Paris with a victory for 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who became the youngest winner in more than a century.
In a statement, prosecutor Dominique Laurens in the southern city of Marseille said that an investigation was being carried out into a “small part” of Arkea-Samsic, without specifying who had been placed in custody.
Laurens added that the two people had “many health products including drugs in their personal belongings, but also and above all a method that can be qualified as doping”.
The general manager of the French team, Emmanuel Hubert, told AFP he was supporting his riders.
“But 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,” he said.
A source familiar with the matter told AFP that the searches had targeted several riders including Colombia’s Dayer Quintana, brother of team leader and former Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana, as well as members of the medical team.
French daily Le Parisien reported that the two in custody were a doctor and physiotherapist.
– Team not targeted ‘directly’ –
The probe will come as a huge disappointment to organisers just a day after positive headlines about the against-the-odds organisation of the race and the last-minute drama that saw Pogacar seize victory on his first Tour de France.
Many had predicted the Covid-19 pandemic would prevent the riders making it the 3,400 kilometres from the Mediterranean city of Nice to the French capital.
Arkea-Samsic team manager Hubert said the probe only involved “a very limited number of riders, as well as their close entourage who are not employed by the team.”
He added that the investigation “does not target the team or its staff directly.”
According to the prosecutor, the investigation is focused on the prescription of a substance or banned method for athletes, as well as help and encouragement in the use of that substance or method.
The charges can lead to up to five years in prison and a 75,000-euro ($88,000) fine.
Arkea-Samsic leader Nairo Quintana finished the Tour in 17th place, more than an hour behind the winner Pogacar. Quintana’s teammate Warren Barguil finished in 14th place, 31 minutes from Pogacar.
The Tour de France has suffered repeated scandals over the years.
One of the biggest occurred in 1998 when customs officials stopped a vehicle laden with doping products, leading the Festina team to be thrown off the race as the peloton staggered into Paris.
US star rider Lance Armstrong, who won from 1999-2005, caused further outrage and disappointment for fans by admitting to doping. He was eventually stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.