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(Reuters) - The Belgian cyclist caught during competition in January with an electric motor hidden in one of her bikes has been banned for six years and fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,603.69), the sport's governing body said on Tuesday.
Femke Van den Driessche, 19, was found guilty of violating competition rules through "technological fraud" during the 2016 Cyclo-cross world championships, the International Cycling Union (UCI) said earlier.
It is the first time an elite rider has been punished for so-called "mechanical doping". A UCI statement on Tuesday described the ban as "a major victory" in the fight against a form of cheating seen as a growing problem in the sport.
"The bike concerned was scanned using the new magnetic resonance testing deployed this year by the UCI. This detected the motor whilst the bike was in the rider's pit area," the statement said.
It said the Vivax motor was concealed along with a battery in the seat-tube, and was controlled by a Bluetooth switch installed underneath the handlebar tape.
Van den Driessche denied knowing that the bike broke the rules, and said it belonged to her friend. But she later decided not to contest the finding and quit the sport.
In a sign of a get-tough policy by the UCI, Van den Driessche has seen all her competitive results nullified since October 2015 and been stripped of her ranking.
She has also been ordered to return medals and prize monies from events in which she competed over that period, and to pay costs of the proceedings.
“We have invested considerable resources in developing this new and highly effective scanning technology and also in strengthening the sanctions applicable to anyone found cheating in this way," UCI President Brian Cookson said.
"This case is a major victory for the UCI and all those fans, riders and teams who want to be assured that we will keep this form of cheating out of our sport.”
Leading cyclists, including 2015 Tour de France winner Chris Froome, have warned about the dangers of mechanical doping. "For the last few years now there have been rumors about motors being concealed within the bikes,” Froome said on cyclingnews.com. "It’s a concern that I’ve had."
The UCI is expected to outline the magnetic resonance technology it uses to counter the cheats at a news conference next week.
"We believe it’s the best technology available for making these kind of checks. It allows us to test a large number of bikes very quickly. We’ve done over 2,000 bikes in various races this year already," Cookson told Reuters at an event in Abu Dhabi.
Additional reporting by Lara Sukhtian in Abu Dhabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich