Antwan Tolhoek at the Cro Race.

A trial in France, a probe in Spain, passport anomalies, and steroids

Several doping stories are in the headlines this week.

Antwan Tolhoek at the Cro Race.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 07.02.2024 More from Dane +

After a relatively quiet stretch for doping news lately, there are suddenly at least four doping-related stories in the headlines as of Wednesday.

Things started on Monday when the UCI announced a provisional suspension for Franck Bonnamour, due to “unexplained abnormalities in his Biological Passport,” according to a brief statement. The Athlete Biological Passport uses longitudinal blood and urine testing to detect changes that indicate doping, rather than testing for banned substances directly. The ABP includes “modules” that monitor biomarkers for unusual hematology and endocrine changes. A finding of abnormality may indicate doping, but could also potentially alert riders to nascent health problems. Bonnamour, a 28-year-old who currently rides for Decathlon-Ag2r la Mondiale, won the Combativity Prize at the 2021 Tour de France.

Tuesday brought the news out of France that Fredy Alexander Gonzales Torres, the Colombian doctor who worked with the Arkéa-Samsic team of Nairo and Dayer Quintana when the team’s hotel rooms were raided at the 2020 Tour de France, is facing charges in relation to the raid. The raid reportedly found “injection equipment” – needles are banned by the UCI “without a clear and recognized medical indication” – although reports at the time did not suggest that any other illegal substances were found in the raid.

Nairo Quintana later tested positive for tramadol during the 2022 Tour, earning a suspension from the UCI as the governing body prohibited the use of the drug in cycling even though it was not a doping violation under WADA rules at the time. Quintana has since returned to the WorldTour with Movistar and is currently racing the Tour Colombia with the team. Tramadol was subsequently added to WADA’s 2024 banned substances list.

According Le Figaro, the aforementioned doctor has been charged with “possession of a substance or method prohibited for use by an athlete without medical justification, in this case equipment, tools, products and devices allowing implementing infusions and/or intravenous injections.” He is set to go on trial in Marseille in September and, if convicted, faces up to five years in prison. The Quintana brothers are not expected to face charges in connection with the case.

While French authorities process that case, Spanish authorities have been conducting Operation Ilex, a probe into a doping ring that has already seen Miguel Ángel López suspended for his alleged involvement, though he denies doping. According to recent reports in Spanish media, the probe has turned up evidence that Doctor Marcos Maynar, the university professor allegedly at the center of the ring, and some of his associates worked to provide athletes with banned substances. Those media reports have included screenshots of messages sent between López and Maynar.

At the same time, the prosecutor involved with the case has called for its scope to be reduced as only some of those under investigation could potentially be charged.

On top of all of that, a report in Marca drawing on sources in the Spanish anti-doping authorities suggests that the systems in place are insufficient to catch cheaters in the pro peloton, highlighting a lack of testing at night and on weekends as one challenge. Marca quoted a source as saying that dopers can use banned substances before bed that are no longer detectable by the next morning, among other nefarious methods for avoiding detection.

Finally, there was Wednesday’s news from the UCI that Antwan Tolhoek has been provisionally suspended after registering an adverse analytical finding for anabolic androgenic steroids in an out-of-competition test in November, when he was still officially a member of Lidl-Trek but weeks after his final race with the team, the Tour of Guangxi.

The 29-year-old Dutchman rode for the LottoNL-Jumbo team (now Visma-Lease a Bike) from 2017 through 2021 before joining Trek-Segafredo on a two-year deal. After leaving that squad at the end of last year, he joined the Sabgal-Anicolor Continental team for 2024. In accordance with the anti-doping rules, Tolhoek can request a B sample analysis.

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