If the media is anything to go by, cycling has been infested with drug doping riders who go to the pharmacists to get that extra 10%, and the likes of Lance Armstrong have done that in style. Now the cycling governing body has clamped down on performance enhancing drugs it seems the cheats are going for technological doping. You can’t be blood tested for a motorised bike! What does this involve?
So what happened?
A motor was found in a Belgian U23 Cyclocross rider’s bike in the first international tournament of the year, the Cyclo-Cross World Championships. She was having a bad day on the hill and had to walk to the finish line – her day got far worse when officials seized the bike for inspection only to find wires and a motor in the pedal crank area of the frame of her bike (the bottom bracket).
This is the first recorded case of ‘technological doping’ in professional riding and it is likely that it will ruin the young Belgian and European champion Femke Van den Driessche’s career before it ever got off the ground. She’s certainly going to be skint for a while as under UCI regulations she could be fined up to 200,000 Swiss Francs for the crime. A summary of what is known and what isn’t can be found on the CX Magazine news pages here.
There have been rumours of ‘technological doping’ in professional cycling since 2004. In 2010 the rumours reached the top of the sport with Saxo Bank having to fend off rumours of using motorised assistance to win races.
My least favourite professional rider, Alberto Contador was accused of winning the Giro d’Italia using motorised assistance in 2015. Given he’s not above taking drugs to win a Tour de France, let’s not discount this rumour too lightly!
Other riders who have apparently found the strength deep inside them to thrash the rest of the peloton have had similar accusations over time. They even took Chris Froome’s bike apart during the 2015 Tour de France during the media frenzy over his suspected drug taking. They found nothing – as with the rubbish about his blood doping it was just the media chasing rainbows.
In late 2015, Cycling Weekly ran an interview with an expert in mechanical doping where he said that he believed the rumours and that there would be a new bike examination being piloted at the first professional tournament of 2016. Is it any surprise that on that very first race someone was busted?
The UCI technical Manager said of the new testing procedures, “We’ll probably do our first test in women’s racing next year because we need to extend. We now have the ability to test more bikes more often.”
Is this something to watch out for?
Technology for assisting cyclists up hills has been around for a while and is improving to help commuters get to work with minimal fuss and minimal additional weight. One of the benefits of professional cheats getting involved will be that this technology may improve considerably in the coming years as people figure out ever lighter and less obvious ways of ‘doping their bikes’ to win races!
However, it shouldn’t be too hard to bust a cheat as in order to dope a bike you need a battery, motor and wiring to make it happen. Unless the Alberto Contadors of this world are really clever the idea of technological doping my not last very long before it is snuffed out for good.