UCI promises tough response to motorized doping scandal

Mon Feb 1, 2016 9:09am EST
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By Julien Pretot

PARIS - International cycling authorities have promised to step up testing for mechanical doping after an electric motor was found in an elite rider's bike, signaling decisive action after struggling for decades to combat illegal drug use.

Stewards at the world cyclo-cross championships found the motor on Sunday in the bike of Belgian teenager Femke Van den Driessche, the first such find during a competitive race.

"We will be testing more bikes, more often," International Cycling Union (UCI) boss Brian Cookson said following the discovery. "Our message to those choosing to cheat is that we will catch up with you sooner or later."

For decades, cycling authorities did little to combat the use of performance-enhancing drugs. It was only with the intervention of outside agencies in the 1990s that the culture and effectiveness of testing begin to change, culminating in Lance Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in 2012.

Cookson said the UCI was "trialing new methods" to catch mechanical dopers, but declined to elaborate. The organization has previously used X-rays or dismantling bikes to look for the tiny motors.

They can be hidden in the downtube, seat-tube or hub and drive the back wheel to give riders a possible speed boost of about 4-5 kilometers (2-3 miles) per hour for up to an hour. A tiny battery can be activated from an easily disguised button on the handlebars.

Random controls for mechanical doping have been carried out since it first surfaced in 2010. Canadian rider Ryder Hesjedal was scrutinized in 2014 when his rear wheel continued to spin furiously after he crashed at the Tour of Spain, though no motor was found.

Last year, grand tour champion Alberto Contador had to refute allegations that he used a motor-assisted bike during the Giro d’Italia after changing bikes ahead of tough climbs, and on last year’s Tour de France, eventual champion Chris Froome also had his bike checked.   Continued...

Britain's Brian Cookson, President of International Cycling Union (UCI) poses in the Federation headquarters in Aigle, western Switzerland  November 19, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse