Cycling officials on Saturday detained a bicycle used in competition at the cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium, to investigate possible “technological fraud.”
If confirmed, it is believed to be the first official case of “mechanical doping” or “bike doping,” which on social media and in online forums has been long speculated to exist but never officially proved.
The International Cycling Union (known by its French abbreviation, UCI), published the following statement:
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) confirms that pursuant to the UCI’s Regulations on technological fraud a bike has been detained for further investigation following checks at the Women’s Under 23 race of the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. This does not concern any of the riders on the podium. Further details will be shared in due course.
A UCI representative later told Business Insider by email that it was sticking to its statement and that its president, Brian Cookson, would address the issue at a press conference on Sunday at 10 a.m. CET.
The Belgian site Sporza said the country’s cycling federation reported that the bicycle was raced by Femke Van den Driessche.
Van den Driessche was among the race favourites, but she was forced to withdraw from the women’s under-23 race because of a mechanical problem toward the end.
“Our auditors detected mechanical fraud — it quickly became apparent that something was wrong,” UCI race coordinator Peter Van den Abeele told Sporza, according to the AFP. But Belgian state television claimed that a small motor had been discovered in the bicycle frame.
Sporza also reported that there were “electrical cables” seen coming out of the bike.
AFP reported that Belgian coach Rudy De Bie said he was “disgusted.”
“We thought that we had in Femke a great talent in the making but it seems that she fooled everyone,” he told Sporza.
Sven Nys, a veteran of cyclocross and one of its best riders, said he was shocked and disappointed.
UCI taking ‘bike doping’ seriously
The UCI has been taking the possibility of technological fraud seriously over the past few years. New penalties include disqualification, a suspension of six months, and a fine of up to 200,000 Swiss francs (about $195,000). Teams could be fined 1 million francs (roughly $977,500).
Here are the UCI rules and penalties regarding technological fraud (PDF):
Business Insider reported in September from the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, that the winner of the elite men’s individual time trial, Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus, had his bike inspected for a motor after he crossed the finish line.
No motor was found.
This photo, provided to Business Insider during the road worlds in September, showed the device used to inspect the inside of Kiryienka’s frame:
When asked by Business Insider about the inspection in Richmond, the UCI replied:
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) takes extremely seriously the issue of technological fraud such as concealed electric motors in bikes, and has therefore added far-reaching sanctions in its Regulations. We have been carrying out controls for many years and although those controls have never found any evidence of such fraud, we know we must be vigilant. We have carried out several unannounced checks on this year’s Tour de France and other Grand Tours. The 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond is the latest event where bikes have been controlled this season, including all top 3 riders of each race. These are extensive controls and nothing was found.
At the 2015 Giro d’Italia, the most important stage race after the Tour de France, an official was shown on video checking eventual race winner Alberto Contador’s bike:
There are videos on YouTube that purport to show images of mechanical doping, and they show that the matter goes back some time actually. This clip, for instance, shows Canadian Ryder Hesjedal’s bike after he wiped out during the 2014 Tour of Spain. His rear wheel appears to keep spinning after the crash, so much so that it whips the bike around on the ground after he himself comes to a stop:
The video below — which has over 3.8 million views on YouTube — claims to show “how mechanic doping may be done,” with images of Swiss pro Fabian Cancellara that “may be considered as incontrovertible evidences.” It’s important to note that Cancellara and his team denied all of this long ago, and they were never penalised or fined.
In the elite women’s race later on Saturday, another Belgian rider took a dramatic over-the-bars tumble but managed to get up and keep racing:
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