Van Avermaet claims innocence after doping investigation emerges

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Named in media reports Saturday morning as being suspected of doping, one of the top Omloop Het Nieuwsblad favourites Greg Van Avermaet has claimed innocence and said that he is confident that he will be cleared.

The 29 year old Belgian was told on Thursday that he had to appear before the Belgian Cycling Federation on March 13 to answer allegations that he was involved in banned practices with the controversial doctor Chris Mertens.

The latter has already been implicated in a three year investigation and is suspected of doping many Flemish elite athletes and riders.

According to the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper, he is not suspected of using EPO or anabolic steroids, but rather of using the banned practice of ozone doping. The offence is thought to date back to 2011.

If proven Van Avermaet could face a lengthy ban. Also called before the federation on March 13 are the riders Tom Meeusen and Bart Wellens.

Van Avermaet was, predictably, the centre of media attention on Saturday morning. He insisted he had nothing to hide.

“Since I have to go before the doping commission of the Belgian cycling federation on March 13, I knew this could happen,” he said, according to Het Nieuwsblad. “But I’m innocent. I am clean and pure. I haven’t done anything that was not allowed, so I’m not worried.

“Yes, I have been long with doctor Mertens, but I have not used any infusions. It is absurd that I always have to justify myself, but that is part of the modern cycling for sure. I’m glad my team let me start. I am convinced that everything will be okay.”

His team released a brief statement acknowledging the situation and explaining why it would let him start.

“The BMC Racing Team was notified Friday by the Belgian Cycling Federation, Koninklijke Belgische Wielrijdersbond, that Greg Van Avermaet has been requested to appear in relation to the investigation of Dr. Chris Mertens. The team has been aware of the investigation of Dr. Mertens from various stories published in the press, but until Friday, February 27, had not confirmed that one of the team’s riders would be required to appear.

“An ongoing internal investigation is being conducted by the team, and at the present time, no information has been obtained that indicates rules have been violated. The team is aware that Van Avermaet was treated by Dr. Mertens, but is unaware of any treatments that would be in violation of any rules.”

It said that based on the information available from the team at this point in time, no decision had been taken to remove him from active status.

It said that will be reviewed as more information comes to light.

“The team will continue its investigation and will evaluate new information at such time as it becomes available. Out of respect for Van Avermaet, the team will not comment further on the matter at the present time.”

The rider said that his chances of doing well in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad were likely affected. “Last night I slept well, but this is obviously not an ideal preparation. This is not an extra incentive for me to ride extra hard today.”

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