By Julien Pretot
PAU, France (Reuters) -French prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into doping allegations against Tour de France cycling team Bahrain Victorious after police searched the outfit's accommodation and bus on Wednesday following the 17th stage of the race.
The prosecutor's office in the port city of Marseille said the investigation was into "acquisition, transport, possession, import of a prohibited substance or prohibited method for use by an athlete without medical justification."
Bahrain Victorious said in an earlier statement: "On the eve of Stage 18 of (the) Tour de France, Team Bahrain Victorious were subject to an investigation by French Police.
"The team were monitored by a number of officers following their arrival after stage 17 to the team hotel in Pau.
"The investigation involved a search of riders’ rooms as part of the process. Despite being unaware of the investigation reasons, the team was also requested to provide all training files which were compiled and presented to the officers as requested,"
Team technical director Vladimir Miholjevic added: "Following stage 17, we were greeted by several French police officers. We were not given a warrant to read through, but the team complied with all the officers’ requests."
The search was performed by officers of the Central Office on the Fight against Threats to Environmental and Public Health of the National Gendarmerie of France (OCLAESP) amid doping suspicions since last year, a police source told Reuters.
'NOTHING TO HIDE'
Slovenian rider Matej Mohoric said the team had nothing to hide as he was about to start Thursday's 18th stage, a 129.76 km mountain ride from Pau to Luz Ardiden in the French Pyrenees.
"It was like 50 of them (police officers). They went through all my stuff and I said yeah I have nothing to hide I don't care," he told reporters.
"They went through all the phones, personal messages... they checked all our belongings, all the buses, all the cars but, of course, they didn't find anything because we have nothing to hide."
His team mate, Italian champion Sonny Colbrelli, said the riders had little time to recuperate after a gruelling mountain stage on Wednesday.
"They searched all the rooms, the gendarmes (police officers) were good, just doing their job. They put everything back the way they found it in an orderly fashion," he said.
"We're good, a bit nervous because these aren't great things for cycling because these are the last days of the Tour, yesterday was a hard stage and we could not sleep until 2:30-3:00, and then this morning we were up again early."
Bahrain Victorious have won two stages on this year's Tour de France through Mohoric and Belgian Dylan Teuns, while Dutchman Wout Poels leads the mountains classification.
Their best ranked rider in the general classification is Spain's Peio Bilbao in 10th place, 12 minutes 53 seconds behind leader Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia, the defending champion.
"We are committed to (the) highest level of professionalism and adherence to all regulatory requirements and will always be cooperating in a professional manner," the team statement added.
"The process had impacted our riders' recovery and meal planning and as a professional team the well being of our team is a key priority."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ken Ferris)