In Austria and Germany, doping is a crime. This helps explain why the contractless Stefan Denifl and Georg Preidler who resigned from Groupama-FDJ on Sunday confessed to police investigating the blood doping ring that was busted in two separate raids in Erfurt, Germany and at the cross-country skiing world championships in Seefeld, Austria. Operation Aderlass, the German word for bloodletting, has raised many uncomfortable questions about anti-doping in endurance sport.
Georg Preidler at the 2018 Vuelta.
Stefan Denifl won a stage of the 2017 Vuelta.
While the biological passport and frequent blood and urine testing have surely deterred many from traditional performance enhancement, Operation Aderlass opens the uncomfortable door that athletes are still cheating using fairly traditional performance enhancing methods. Some 40 blood bags were uncovered in the police operation in Austria and Germany. The identities of many of the athletes involved have yet to be revealed. It’s a criminal investigation and the names of many others will surely come forward as DNA from the evidence police uncovered is analyzed.
The doctor behind the doping ring is Mark Schmidt who has been arrested and says he will cooperate with police. Schmidt was the team doctor for the Gerolsteiner and Milram pro cycling teams in the late 1990s and 2000s.
Austrian Nordic skier Max Hauke caught with needle in his arm by Police during anti-doping raid at World Champs.
The tip of the iceberg.
— Alexandre Roty (@alexroty) March 1, 2019
So far, five elite skiers and four other people have been arrested. The skiers are from Kazakhstan, two from Austria and two Estonians. The images of a stunned 26-year-old Max Hauke mid-blood transfusion in his hotel room that leaked is the lasting image from the raid but surely not the last we have heard of the operation.
The UCI has provisionally suspended Preidler and Stefan Denifl after their confessions to blood doping. The pair of Austrians became embroiled in Operation Aderlass when they were interviewed by police and confessed to blood doping. Preidler insists for the rest of his career he had been clean and only had blood extracted, not yet reinjected.
“The UCI has now received further information regarding the admissions made by Georg Preidler and Stefan Denifl,” a UCI statement read. “After a review of all elements in its possession, the UCI has decided to provisionally suspend both riders with immediate effect.
“The UCI will assist the Austrian National Anti-Doping Organisation in the conduct of the disciplinary proceedings against Preidler and Denifl and will support all involved parties in the ongoing investigations.”
In response, Preidler’s teammate Thibaut Pinot strongly denounced his blood extraction.
“When I saw it, I was stunned,” Pinot told L’Équipe. “I didn’t expect that at all, especially coming from a guy like that. It was really difficult. I even shed a tear, because for me, it was high treason.”
Likewise, German sprinter Marcel Kittel was quick to denounce the blood doping uncovered by the operation.
“I find it tragic that a handful of people can do so much damage to the image of German sports and my hometown. In the coming days there will surely be new names and details made public, and I find one fact especially bad: that Dr. Schmidt’s practice was also an official contact point of the LSB Thüringen for many young up-and-coming athletes, who were examined and treated there and now are put in a bad light, although they did nothing wrong,” he wrote on his personal website.
As the fallout from the bust continues, endurance sport fans and sponsors will ask themselves how many other athletes have managed to slip through the cracks of the anti-doping system. Traditional doping controls nor the biological passport managed to detect the cheating of the skiers nor the two cyclists already embroiled in Operation Aderlass.