I LIBOURNE, France (Reuters) -Slovenian Matej Mohoric gave Bahrain Victorious something to cheer with his second stage win in this year’s Tour de France two days after French police searched his team’s accommodation and vehicles amid an investigation into potential doping.
Mohoric, who had already prevailed in the seventh stage in Le Creusot, attacked from the breakaway to wrap up a solo victory on the 19th stage, a 207-km ride from Mourenx, virtually zipping his mouth shut as he crossed the line.
“It was just a sign to show people who question our performances to be mindful that we are making huge sacrifices… to come here,” Mohoric told a news conference.
“That brought us even closer together, we are more determined to show that we have nothing to hide and collaborate with the police.”
Mohoric added that after feeling “weird” about the searches that were conducted until 2am local time, he was happy to comply with the investigation, as his team said on Thursday.
“I can’t answer for my team mates, I can only speak for myself. At first I felt weird about being questioned but then I thought I should look at the bigger picture,” he explained.
“This is actually good for the sport of cycling. To be transparent to have these questions because there were big problems in the sport in the past.
“I can only speak for myself but I never saw these things happen, something illegal, so I can be super clear about myself. If somebody needs to go through my stuff through my phone I will accept this.”
The French prosecutor’s office in Marseille on Thursday said it had opened a preliminary investigation into the Bahrain Victorious team after police searched the outfit’s hotel.
It said the investigation was into “acquisition, transport, possession, import of a prohibited substance or prohibited method for use by an athlete without medical justification.”
Mohoric’s compatriot Tadej Pogacar retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey for UAE Team Emirates after staying safe in the peloton, crossing the line more than 20 minutes 50 seconds off the pace.
Friday’s stage was expected to end in a mass sprint but some 20 riders managed to break away from the main bunch and their advantage increased quickly, meaning Mark Cavendish has one last chance to win his 35th Tour stage on Sunday on the Champs-Elysees.
The Briton is tied with Belgian great Eddy Merckx, who bagged 34 stage wins in his glittering career as he won a record five Tour titles.
Merckx was at the start of the stage in Mourenx, where he has a velodrome named after him after he pulled one of his greatest feats, beating his rivals by more than eight minutes in a mountain stage on his way to his first Tour title in 1969.
France’s Christophe Laporte of Cofidis was second in Friday’s stage and Dane Casper Pedersen (Team DSM) came home third, both 58 seconds off the pace.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)