French police open investigation into possible doping within Arkea-Samsic squad at Tour de France

Police searched hotel rooms occupied by Arkéa-Samsic last Wednesday

French police have opened a preliminary investigation into possible doping within the France-based Arkéa-Samsic squad at this year’s Tour de France.

Prosecutor Dominique Laurens in Marseille confirmed to French news agency AFP on Monday that an inquiry had been opened and cited the “discovery of many health products, including drugs and especially a method that could be qualified as doping”.

Prosecutor Laurens added that the investigation focused on the “prescription to an athlete without medical justification of a prohibited substance or method within the framework of a sports event, aid in the use and encouragement to use a substance or method prohibited to athletes, transport and possession of substance or method prohibited for use by an athlete without medical justification.”

French police searched hotel rooms occupied by Arkéa-Samsic last Wednesday following the Col de la Loze finish on stage 17 at the Tour de France, according to reports in Le Journal du Dimanche Arkéa-Samsic team manager Emmanuel Hubert confirmed that the search had taken place when contacted by L’Équipe, but he declined to comment further.

On Monday night, the UCI, cycling’s world governing body, released the following statement about the investigation: “The UCI confirms that it has been in communication with OCLAESP and the Cycling Antidoping Foundation (CADF) as part of the legal operations carried out by the French authorities on the sidelines of the Tour de France. The UCI welcomes and supports the action of all parties involved and will take the appropriate measures once it has taken note of the information obtained by the French legal authorities.”

Emmanuel Hubert, general manager of Arkea Samsic, said in a statement: "A search did take place last week in our hotel, as I've already confirmed to various outlets. It only concerns a very small number of riders, as well as their close entourage, not staff members of the team.

"We obviously support our riders, but if it turns out that at the end of the current investigation, the elements confirm the veracity of doping practices, the team would immediately dissociate itself from such acts ... 

"The team, a member of the MPCC, the Movement for a Credible Cycling, has always shown throughout the last 20 years, its attachment to ethical practices and has taken a strong stance in favour of the fight against doping."

The development will come as a huge blow to the sport, which has struggled to regain credibility following years of doping scandals in the 1990s and 2000s.

It comes less than 24hrs after Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia was crowned the youngest Tour de France champion in over 100 years in a dramatic finale to the race. The UAE Team Emirates rider, who turned 22 on Monday, managed to turn the race on its head with a senastional ride in the penultimate day time trial to overhaul his compatriot Primoz Roglic [Jumbo-Visma].

Tadej Pogacar celebrates winning the Tour de France Credit: Shutterstock

There is no suggestion that Pogacar or his team have done anything wrong.

Indeed, the Slovenian has been hailed as a unique talent by his team’s medical director, Dr Jeroen Swart, who assured fans they could believe in him.

Swart, a South African who has worked in anti-doping and was the independent doctor brought in to oversee Chris Froome’s independent physiological testing in 2015, told The Cycling Podcast that Pogacar gave him no cause for concern.

“I wouldn’t get involved in any aspect of this team if I wasn’t sure that my reputation wasn’t safe,” Swart said of the rider, whose stunning time trial performance on La Planche des Belles Filles last Saturday turned the race completely on its head. “I have access to all the blood profiles and there’s nothing that I’ve seen [of Pogacar] that makes me even remotely concerned.

“Tadej is someone who shies away from using any form of medication whatsoever. Last year in the Vuelta when he crashed I could see he was in pain and I offered him paracetamol and he refused to take it. He said ‘No, the pain is not bad enough to warrant taking any medication. I don’t put anything in my body I don’t need.’ Those sorts of things give me a lot of reassurance. “Look, we know the history of the sport. You can never be 100 per cent sure of anything, as we’ve seen over the years. But certainly from what I can see and control and what I have seen, there is nothing that gives me any pause whatsoever.”

Swart said that Pogacar’s ability to recover, in particular, was “off the charts” good. “That’s really what differentiates winners of one-day races versus grand tour winners,” he said. “My colleague Inigo San Millan actually did a metabolomic study on the guys in our team. That’s looking at markers for various physiological processes. And Tadej’s markers are absolutely off the charts in terms of his ability to recover. He’s really one of a kind in that respect.”