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The BMC Racing Team has responded to reports today that the Belgian Cycling Federation’s prosecutor is seeking a two year ban for Greg Van Avermaet by saying that it will not block him from competition prior to the hearing.
“The BMC Racing Team is aware of today’s hearing by the Belgian Cycling Federation, Koninklijke Belgische Wielrijdersbond, in which Greg Van Avermaet appeared in relation to the investigation of Dr. Chris Mertens,” said the squad in a brief statement.
“Based on information currently available to the BMC Racing Team, Van Avermaet will not be withheld from competition.
“No further statements about the case will be made by team officials prior to a decision being rendered by the Belgian Cycling Federation on May 7.”
In February the 29 year old Belgian was told 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.
Mertens has been scrutinised as part of a three year investigation and is suspected of doping many Flemish elite athletes and riders.
The Het Nieuwsblad newspaper reported at the end of February that Van Avermaet 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, and could carry a lengthy ban.
Speaking in February, Van Avermaet said that he had nothing to hide.
“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.”
He shone in the recent northern Classics, taking third in both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
According to Sudinfo.be, Mertens is accused of boosting riders by using two drugs that are not always prohibited. The first is the corticosteroid Diprophos, which is not banned out of competition or with an approved TUE certificate.
The second is Vaminolact, a drug usually given to infants which can act as a masking agent. The latter is banned if injected.
The federation’s prosecutor is Jaak Fransen. His case against Van Avermaet is understood to be based on an exchange of information between the rider and Mertens between November 2009 and late 2012. According to that information, Van Avermaet took cortisone on March 29, 2012, three days before the Tour of Flanders. He finished fourth in the event. Fransen also believes Van Avermaet used cortisone and Vaminolact prior to that year’s Brabantse Pijl/Flèche Brabançonne.
Fransen is seeking a two year suspension for Van Avermaet as well as a fine of 262,500 euro. He accepts there is no direct evidence but that the messages suggest that Van Avermaet was using cortisone for performance boost rather than to treat an injury.
The rider’s counsel Johnny Maesschalk disputes this. He said that cortisone was taken to treat a heel problem. He also claims that the cortisone injection around the time of the 2012 Brabantse Pijl/Flèche Brabançonne came after the race rather than before.
He also states that while Van Avermaet may have received a prescription for substances, he never used it.
Van Avermaet is due to link up with team-mate Philippe Gilbert and others from the squad in this Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race.