Skiers given four-year bans in latest twist of Aderlass affair

Austrian skier Max Hauke has been banned for four years for blood doping (AFP Photo/GEORG HOCHMUTH)
Austrian skier Max Hauke has been banned for four years for blood doping (AFP Photo/GEORG HOCHMUTH)

Vienna (AFP) - Two Austrian cross-country skiers were hit with four-year bans on Tuesday in the latest installment of the Operation Aderlass investigation into organised blood doping.

Dominik Baldauf and Max Hauke, who were found guilty by the Austrian Anti-Doping Agency of giving themselves blood transfusions, were arrested on February 27 with three other athletes while at the Nordic Ski World Championships in Seefeld.

There were arrested as part of Operation Aderlass, which is investigating alleged doping revolving around German doctor Mark Schmidt, who was arrested on the same day at his surgery in Erfurt.

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The two skiers admitted their guilt and have had all of their results wiped dating back to April 1, 2016, when they began their doping procedure.

Hauke, 26, who was caught as he was transfusing 100 millilitres of blood, said the Aderlass system was run like clockwork.

"When we needed a transfusion, a specialist would wait for us at a neighbouring hotel to give us the needle," Hauke told Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung.

They are the latest athletes to be exposed by Operation Aderlass -- German for "bloodletting" -- in a scandal that has involved numerous athletes in the worlds of skiing and cycling, including former Tour de France winner Alessandro Petacchi.

According to the public prosecutor in Munich, Schmidt is suspected of facilitating blood doping for at least 21 athletes from eight nationalities across five different sports.

An athlete can benefit from blood doping by transfusing his own blood, treated to raise the red blood cell count that facilitates oxygen delivery in the body, thereby increasing power and stamina.

Petacchi, who won six Tour de France stages and 22 on the Giro, was cited by the International Cycling Union (UCI) but has denied the allegations.

"I never went to his surgery in Germany or anywhere else," the Italian told Corriere della Sera in May.

"I never had a blood transfusion and I have no idea why I'm being connected with this case."

The doping network does appear to have worked its way into cycling, however.

Last month two Austrians Stefan Denifl and Georg Preidler were handed four-year bans while Slovenian Kristijan Koren and Croat Kristijan Durasek remain suspended.

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