The Electric Shock

Femke Van den Driessche

The UCI has confirmed there was a concealed motor found in controls on one of the bikes in the pits belonging to Belgian U23 rider Femke Van den Driessche. She is proclaiming her innocence saying the bicycle belonged to a friend who dropped it off at the pits but as we’ll see below, the backstory does not matter when it comes to the UCI rules as rider and team alike are responsible for ensuring they have a compliant bicycle.

Today’s L’Equipe writes that the UCI has a new way of detecting motors: an electromagnetic field detector, although it the newspaper’s piece is carefully written and the new method may not have found the motor yesterday. Reports on Belgian TV’s Sporza say cables were found down the seat tube – note Van den Driessche does not use electronic gears so it wasn’t the battery pack – and that it was not possible to remove the cranks as normal from the bike.

Peter Van den Abeele

After a battery of tests, this morning the UCI President Brian Cookson and Peter van den Abeele, the UCI’s “Head of Off-road” confirmed verbally in a press conference on the margins of the Zolder course that “it was a concealed motor” before adding they could not say much more as the case will go to a hearing.

For now things are at a provisional stage. The rider concerned, Femke Van den Driessche (Belgian junior champion in 2011, reigning European U23 champion), denies cheating saying the bike belonged to a friend who trains with her and was brought to the pits. Of course this raises the question of who the “friend” is and what they’ve got to say about it.

What next?
The case goes to the UCI’s Disciplinary Commission which is the body in charge of imposing sanctions for breaches of the UCI Regulations. A panel of up to three members plus the Chair will examine the case. After an initial review normally they’ll call the accused to a hearing, normally in the UCI’s headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland but it can be done in Belgium too. The commission doesn’t need a unanimous verdict, a majority is sufficient. The UCI’s verdict can appealed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The rules
For years the idea of a motor seemed improbable and punishment fell under the same general rules about using an approved bicycle and completing the course under your own steam, for example not taking a train as happened a century ago, or holding onto the team car as can happen today.

Now there are new rules under the vague term of “technological fraud”. Here’s a screengrab of the rule (my emphasis):

Like many of the UCI rules it’s not very well drafted. “Technological fraud” is defined as a non-compliant bicycle when it comes to propulsion and everyone knows 12.1.013 is “the motor rule”. It’s worth noting the emphasised points underlined in red:

  • the mere presence of a bicycle on the margins of a race is sufficient for a ban. If a bike with a motor is found in the pits or fixed to the roof of the team car that’s enough, it doesn’t have to be ridden in competition
  • liability falls on the rider and the team alike, each “must ensure that any bicycle they they use is in compliance”. Does anyone do this? Should a rider disassemble their bottom bracket and hubs just before a race and put a wax seal on them for assurance? Of course not but the rules do place the burden on “ensuring” the bike is appropriate. Also “team” isn’t a defined term either so it’s unsure if the Belgian team are at fault here or the Kleur Op Matt – No Drugs women’s CX team
  • six months is the minimum for a non-compliant bike so if someone is caught using an working motor during a race you’d expect the sanction to be significantly more

Conspiracy theory: some have said the UCI have caught a small fish in order to warn off the others. I think this credits too much political craft to the UCI.

The UCI has found a motor for the first time. This has been a saga over the years with bikes being scanned by X-ray before a prologue or disassembled after a mountain stage. We got a collection of conspiracy videos featuring furtive bike changes and spinning wheels and a lot of whispers. Nothing had ever been found but this was the story that would never die. That’s how conspiracy theories work: a lack of evidence only signals to some that there’s a clever cover-up. Now it’s real and shocking.

There’s now a disciplinary procedure in place which will weigh up the evidence and deliver a verdict, probably within weeks. Crucially the “technological fraud” rule imposes strict liability on the rider and team: it doesn’t matter how the bike or motor got there nor even whether it was used in the race.

Would anyone now be daft enough to use this in a race? You’d hope not but some imbeciles start races with easily-detectable EPO and steroids coursing through their veins so this weekend’s news might be the first case but not the last.

  • Update: this piece was edited following Flahute’s comment below about the definition of “technological fraud” which does specifically relate to the bicycle’s propulsion

218 thoughts on “The Electric Shock”

  1. A life ban might hopefully nip this in the bud (if it’s still in the bud).
    ‘My friend gave me it’ is hogwash.
    Unfortunate that the sponsorship situation would never allow the UCI to produce all bikes and present them to the riders at the races.

    • I’m not hereby defending at all the lack of punishment, which is obviously needed and must be significant, but I feel that in pro cycling the mere idea of being caught and exposed while cheating this way would be – presently – heavier than any official sanction, in terms of social and image impact. Unlike what has happened and perhaps still happens with doping. I could be dead wrong, surely. This is not to meant to argue that pro haven’t been cheating this way but that maybe they felt reasonably sure not to get caught, or not to be personally exposed if caught, as Will A looks like to be implying above. And like it used to happen during some decades with doping. In this case, how severe is the sanction is a bit secondary, unless it was meant to let everybody know that the times they are at changin’ from a policy and policing point of view. But I don’t want to venture into conspiracy theory, as inrng says. At least one – young – retired rider (the guy had to retire because of his stance about clean-water cycling, by the way) publicly expressed more or less the same concept yesterday… even if his personal history doesn’t necessarily mean he knows for certain.

      • All this migth be true, but I can’t see any reason not to impose a heavy sanction: it will act as some deterrent and a life ban takes them out of the sport (being allowed to compete is not a right).
        As for her excuse that a friend randomly turned up with a motor-powered bike for her without consulting her about it, that joins the pantheon of preposterous doping excuses.
        The big question is whether or not it is feasible for the UCI to test every bike – and how reliable are these tests.
        Who is this rider you mention?

        • I’m against life bans as a principle, but I agree about heavy sanctioning in this specific case, as I stated in the opening of my reply.
          Just take into account that it *doesn’t* work as a deterrent, because deterrents rarely work in terms of heavy sanctioning, what really works is the high chance of being caught.
          Another matter: the possibility of heavy sanctions just shifts the balance of power among the social players: would you sanction the team as heavily as the rider? You should in a case like this. All the team management or just the mechanic? And the sponsors? Any difference among these subjects when punishiment is concerned shifts the balance of power relations, and a governing institution must take these effects into account.
          It’s not practical to kick 10 to 20 people out of the sport at once, not to speak of the sponsors, hence you can’t go *extremely* hard on the rider, either, unless you go on descending the path of making the riders pure cannon fodder – undesired may it be this consequence. Which is cycling’s history in the last 25 years or so.

          • I’d ban any mechanics found to be complicit – but primarily I’d punish rider and team management. (Very harsh on the people who would lose their jobs as a consequence, I know.)
            Team management have to be responsible for the bikes their employees ride – they should take (if they don’t already) complete control of equipment. (If a rider turns up with a bike – or their friend does – and says ‘I want to ride this’, the answer is ‘No, you ride the bike we give you’.)
            It would be good to have those in charge culpable for a change (and the rider would always be culpable, because they would know the motor was in there).

          • “It’s not practical to kick 10 to 20 people out of the sport at once, not to speak of the sponsors, hence you can’t go *extremely* hard on the rider, either, unless you go on descending the path of making the riders pure cannon fodder – undesired may it be this consequence. Which is cycling’s history in the last 25 years or so.”
            Perhaps this is the way to go. Cycling perhaps has an issue with cheating because those in power (teams, sponsors) know that “you can’t kick out 10-20 people”. Maybe you can. Does there have to be a strong World Tour or whatever we’re calling it now? Would banning directors et al for their actions (if we accept that they know riders are cheating (or encourage it) but know the rider cops it if caught) lead to a clean house after a period of collapse? wishful thinking perhaps.

          • I agree Chris: make teams 100% responsible for the bikes and then they face the consequences (as the rider should if they ride it).
            I doubt it would take many more than one team being disbanded for team bosses to knock this right on the head.

          • @Chris
            It’s well-known why and how cycling has an issue with doping, and it’s got quite a little to do with not kicking out people.

            However, please note that I fully agree with the idea of extended liability reaching to sponsors and management, the problem is how you do that properly and if it’s going to work.
            The idea of a Phoenix-like rebirth after a collapse is a dangerous rhetoric our culture has been fed on, but it doesn’t necessarily work in social reality just because it works so well on the big screen.

      • Somehow I can imagine a pro, let’s say his nickname is the “Green Bullet’ being caught with a “doped” bicycle…and when his ban is over saying pretty much what he currently says about the blood he had stored with that gynecologist fellow. To me the most interesting thing in this story is if you simply take out MOTOR and insert BANNED SUBSTANCE the excuses are identical. I assume bikes in the pits at events like the ‘cross Worlds are assigned to specific riders and must meet the rules. If this bike had the competitor’s # on it and was set up to be used as a spare, it’s pretty much like having your urine tested – it’s YOUR urine and no matter how the banned substance got in there, it’s YOU who are going to be sanctioned, no matter what (with obvious exceptions like the supposedly contaminated gel caps story) fanciful excuse you come up with or who you blame it on. At least now all those who bleated “It’s impossible, nobody would ever cheat with a motor!” can STFU.

    • Aren’t you being a little hypocritical? You’ve gone on and on about Roman Kreuziger and then here you are ready to throw all and sundry over the cliff without 5% of the facts.

      Let’s wait until the whole story is finally laid out and then have an Intelligent conversation.

      • I’ve never said that RK was innocent. I don’t believe he was and I never did: feel free to trawl through Inner Ring’s archives and see for yourself (or don’t – I don’t care what you think).
        What I said about the RK incident was that Cookson’s public proclamations about Kreuziger were a bad idea before the result of the case. This proved so when the case collapsed.
        Why aren’t you insulting everyone else on here who is discussing the subject?
        (One might even wonder why you wish to insult complete strangers – but that’s very much your problem.)
        It’s fairly obvious, despite your various soubriquets, who you are. I’m not really interested in your motivations – I’m here (like most others apart from you) to discuss cycling. Henceforth, I shall not respond to your comments – or similar ones.

        • I totally agree – this rider needs to be an example. Her excuse that the bike came from a friend implies that she knew EXACTLY which bike they were referring to, what was going on in the bike and that the bike came from a sponsor initially and was tampered with. How else would her friend have a bike that happens to be exactly the same as her trade team bikes.

          Secondly, the team (trade) AND HER NATION, as she was riding for Belgium at the time need to face stiff financial penalties. I’d go so far as to say that her trade team’s management company owners are personally liable, therefore ensuring that her trade team’s sponsor’s funds continue to pay for riders salaries.

          This is despicable. I was hoping that all the rumours of engines in bikes was false.

          I agree with J Evans, ALL bikes must be tested from now on, and that the seat post CANNOT be a place to store electric wires for electrical gears (better yet, ban electrical gears to avoid complications – what’s the matter with Dura Ace anyways??).

          • If your buddy showed up with a Willier and left it in your garage, you’d know it was his and not yours, but you might not know that the reason you felt like a pony when you rode together was because he had a motor. Let’s wait and see what the Whole story is; Cookson has been wrong before.

            As to the both of you taking everyone to the guillotine to set an example, there are rules, they cover the punishment as well…

          • Re “Anonymous”. The examples of bikes with motors available to buy have buttons to engage the motor (and disengage) so I’d think the user would have to know about the motor. There might be newer tech of course. The last time I looked was after last years Giro.

    • I cannot ever agree to making an example of someone in relation to an offense be it cheating like this or a crime. It’s not fair to the person that made the mistake. Determine the consequences and apply the same uniform punishment to everyone that violated the code or law.

      Similar but different. It bugs me how Froome got illegal assistance from the car via Porte at the TDF and gets a 20sec penalty. Then Porte got 2mins for taking Clarkes wheel. Then Nibali gets thrown out of the Vuelta for getting a tow when everybody is seen getting the old drink bottle push.

  2. Brings a new meaning to “motoring off the front.”

    As above, I hope the punishment is harsh. Liability should lie with team and rider. Although at least this form of “doping” does not risk human health

    • True, and I agree
      OTOH, you get benefits without having to work any harder (which most doping usually implies, whereas, and that’s funny enough, some *legal* bio-chemical help currently in use doesn’t require extra-training, it works like a videogame-like boost, and health effects are far from being safe and/or fully verified).

  3. Another sad day for cycling, although not really a surprise. Why are there so many imbeciles associated with our sport. Maybe the Belgium Federation should have taken a little more interest in this riders performance given the family history. Easy to say after the event I guess.

    Agree with others that if found guilty, the punishment should be severe to deter others.

  4. Inner Ring, how hard would it be for the UCI to test every bike at the end of a race – how long does the scanning, or whatever, take?
    Does anyone know?

    • This is the biggie isn’t it.

      Although absolutely shocking, in the singular sense ( i.e. one bike, one rider) it’s a lot more cut and dried to find and prove doping (either mechanical or biological) in the case of a motor. Its a clear positive / negative, unlike the biological testing methods which can be disputed more.

      As J Evans suggests, the problems arise when you try to scale up this testing process to an entire peloton + support bikes. I imagine you could use some handheld device, but there’s the clear logistical issue. For one day races, bike could be submitted 2 days in advance, and kept under secure guard to prevent pre-race tampering whilst they were checked.

      However, what do you do in Grand Tours. Is it a sample tested every day? Top 20 per stage? The UCI really needs to make it clear ASAP to provide a rapid deterrent to anyone tempted or already using these technologies.

      Eurgh. Cycling sometimes….

  5. Does anyone have a link to an article which provides an example of how such a motor would work? For it to be concealed and small, I can’t begin to think how it would be able to produce any real power. Cheers

    • Exactly.
      I’ve, to date, found the notion of a small concealed motor / battery slightly fantastical.
      Obviously the basic technology is out there, but examples that are useable are quite large and clunky.
      How much power / watts a small hidden battery could produce, I wouldn’t like to say.
      Perhaps not very much and not for a sustained period of time.
      Although ANY power from such a source would be too much.
      But the findings of the hearing will be very very interesting.

      • The battery is the size of a fist – hidden in the bidon in this case – and the entire unit weighs around 2kg!
        Hardly worth it for 30+ minutes of (admittedly substantial) extra wattage?

        • In Italy you can find bespoke racing bikes with the battery hidden within the frame (well, in CX they don’t use no bidon ^__^), and the whole system weighs less than 2 kgs. Which is not such a huge problem with the current weight limit, either.

          • I sort of answered my own question below – if a rider swapped bikes mid-race (common in CX and increasingly so in road) – then yes, the extra weight would be worth the gain.
            Imagine those extra watts going up the..ohh…say the Motirola for instance??

          • The Mortirolo (I guess) isn’t the best example, even if it could work more or less fine there, too. It would be one of the worst places and situations, indeed. The motor is ideal on slopes with lesser gradients, where power matters relatively more than power to weight, and when the duration of a high-level effort (full gas or nearby) is less than 30′. Or during races with very short and very intense efforts, like the CX example shows. On the Mortirolo even when you aren’t pushing to the limit you must be pushing hard, and you’d regret any extra gr. riding over 10% most of the time. That’s if you didn’t succeed in compensating all the weight of the system (using a bike which naturally weighs around 5 kgs, far from impossible but still uncommon and it would be quite apparent because of custom components).
            If anything, the motor should have been used before, like in the previous climb, to arrive fresher to the finale (many people say that motors were mostly used like this).
            However, the Giro is one of the worst race to adopt a motor, generally speaking (no doubt that if they were widely used, they were used there, too). Flanders is a great race. The Vuelta (high gradients there, too, but often the decisive effort lasts less than 10′). The Tour’s climbs. ITT with some climbing. Heavier riders would benefit more than lighter ones, always implying that you couldn’t fully compensate the weight; if you could, it would be better for lighter riders.

          • @Chris
            What I meant is that everyone would notice that you’ve gone for a very light setting, wouldn’t they? And knowing that very light material currently has got two or three weak points when compared to most “normal” top-level equipment, plus knowing there’s the weight limit, well, I guess someone would wonder what are you at, don’t you think?
            You’d also have some troubles with the sponsors – nothing which hasn’t been gone over before, but it would be an issue. And CN tech people catching this and that details of your bicycle 😉
            (Besides, even if in the photos you’ve got the pedals on, shops and manufacturer usually weigh the bikes without pedals, but they *do enter* in the UCI weight rule).
            It’s all a bit on the limit.
            And that would pretty much exclude the cobbles… or CX… I’d say that when they ride motorised bicycles, they still have/had got (consider that we’re hearing about the question in the pro ranks since 5-6 years at least, what about the weights then?) to ride on a heavier bicycle.

          • @Chris
            I’ve been hearing of electrowheels for a while now, but I still haven’t understood how they do work. The Gazzetta article, with photos and all, doesn’t explain anything about the principles through which they’d work. Knowing something more, one could say if it makes sense or not.
            Cheers for your bicycle, great setup (and I quite love Wilier), but that one and half a kilo over what you need to fully compensate the weight of a motor wouldn’t be cheap and wouldn’t go unnoticed, either. Every extra gram is harder to shave.
            It’s easier to imagine that the pro just use a 7-something kgs bike when they’ve got the motor and switch it when the motor isn’t needed anymore. Hence the consequences on better or worse context to use it, more or less suitable riders and so on.
            However what I really liked in your LBS page was the series of custom made titanium bikes 😉 There’s really a whole lot of love for beautiful bicycles out there.

    • Can’t be a Gruber assist kit because that thing is noisy als hell. Could it be a Vivax assist kit with hidden battery pack in the frame? Maybe. Many people refer to the Koppenbergcross 1 November 2015 where she possibly used the bike for the first time. She passed Nikki Harris 3 times on a steep uphill. If she was already using it that day, then it must have been a really silent kit not to have been pointed out as suspicious at that time by Harris, Cant, Verschueren, Wyman. I remember everyone being amazed by the outstanding performance from the 19 year old. I’ve been watching the replay of that race but can’t see any suspicious behavior or manipulation of a little knob on the handlebar .
      What also comes to my mind is that she started the Worlds race as a favorite for the title but was sticking 10th and could not move up to the front of the race without the ebike that got confiscated after the first lap.

  6. If you look at article 1.3.010 it clearly states no (electronic) assistance is allowed. So the combination of the two articles doesn’t leave much room for interpretation.

    1.3.010 Propulsion
    The bicycle shall be propelled solely, through a chainset, by the legs (inferior muscular chain) moving in a circular movement, without electric or other assistance.
    In para-cycling, mechanical prostheses/orthopaedic braces for upper or lower limbs can only be used by athletes who have been evaluated in accordance with the UCI classification procedure and who have Review (R) or Confirmed (C) status.
    In no case may a mechanical prosthesis/orthopaedic brace for the lower limbs be used outside para-cycling events.

  7. Media broadcasters picking up on this story in the UK, even regional radio news bulletins. It will SADLY, reinforce the opinion that cycling should be consigned to “popping to the shop” and not a serious sport.

  8. I saw someone on a shopper/basket fitted type electric assisted bike flying up a local hill recently- trouble is that the motors even in the lower tech range really work well. The UCI will have their work cut out now to stop this. How do you check every bike in a race including the spares on team cars?

    • It was one of the funniest scene ever when during a club ride in Barcelona a middle-to-old-aged, a bit overweight figure destroyed on a couple of ramps all the best climbers of the group, riding a typical city-bike with basket, baguette in said basket along with shopping-bags and newspaper. The curious thing is that it didn’t happen within the city but on a tiny country road lost deep into the woods, more or less from nowhere to nowhere. We suspected it was sort of candid camera or so, but it never turned out as such. In fact, it makes sense that if you live, or spend the week end, in a “urbanización” on the hills in the middle of nothing (there are several around there), you buy and ride an e-bike for the daily shopping.

      • A few weeks ago while riding an uphill road in Santa Barbara, CA, we noticed a couple leaving a driveway on clunky-looking bikes, almost beach cruisers. They were just ahead of us and I was sure we’d be passing them in a minute or two. But somehow we never caught up to them, their distance in front of us stayed the same. They were pedaling the bikes so the electric assistance was not obvious, but once we caught then as the road flattened out, we noticed the battery packs.
        With current battery technology, a hidden battery could certainly produce far more than the sum of all the “marginal gains” claimed by teams like SKY. If the rider uses this cheating method early on in the race when tucked inside the peloton and pretty much unnoticed, he/she should be much, much fresher when it comes to “crunch time” in the race…and by then the “doped” bicycle could have been switched out to simply vanish so the UCI could never test it. This is already likely a “cheaters one step ahead of the testers” situation, except somebody screwed up big-time at the ‘cross worlds, just like the not-so-clever dope takers still routinely get caught.

    • That particular practice should have been banned from the outset, irrespective of motors or any other form of mechanical doping, simply because it’s ridiculous. I’m just about fine with riders choosing which frame to ride on a given stage (a lighter bike for a mountain stage, a more aero bike for a sprint stage, etc), but hopping off for a quick bike change midway through a stage is nonsense. Likewise with riders switching to aero helmets a few km before a sprint finish.

      Let’s leave the costume changes to hosts at the Oscars.

      • I quite agree.
        When Contador did this early on in the 2015 Giro, the peloton waited for him, presumably thinking he had a genuine mechanical. No, he was just swapping from his all day bike to his climbing bike.
        If riders continue to feign a mechanical problem only to make a tactical bike change continues, then the unwritten rule, that you don’t attack the guy with the puncture, will be gone.

    • When bike changes were finally allowed, they were supposed to be to prevent an athlete from being the victim of a mechanical failure – the old primacy of man over machine. But of course perfectly good bikes were swapped for all kinds of other reasons and the wily mechanics would simply (later) make sure the bike in question displayed some mechanical failure. I think they gave up trying to enforce this and now let ’em swap bikes pretty much whenever they want, even though it’s taking advantage of a rule intended only to make mechanical issues less devastating. I’d like to see it done away with, but as with most things, the devil’s in the details when it comes to enforcement/fairness, etc.

      • Perhaps there’s a simple solution: any bike swapped out during the race should be put into a race vehicle rather than a team car. Then it could be checked by the commissaires before being returned to the team, either on the road or at the end of the stage.

  9. They should never have read Thursday’s Slow Change blog!
    But what is this about new electromagnetic field detectors being a breakthrough way to find any such motor? (A battery of tests indeed, Inrng.) Surely hidden motors can’t be difficult to discover. If you look at Watson’s lead photo of the alleged culprit, used by Cycling Weekly, it seems there is a lot of cabling on the bike – all very neatly attached and hi-viz. If that is in fact an obvious give-away, she should have gone to Spec Savers. But it’s another sad day for cycling. And only 19.

  10. I imagine the bike maufacturers who sponsor the teams will be keeping a close eye on this. The possible reputational damage might be enough of a deterrent to make them keep the teams honest. Then again…
    Still, I take the point that teams and manufacturers should be held as accountable as riders on this matter, although I can imagine the media shit-storm if Pinarello, Trek or Specialized (for example) got a 2 year ban.

    • I can’t see how a manufacturer could be held responsible. They can’t check again what they’ve sold. Should they be asked to engineer a bike which wouldn’t possibly hide any motor? Quite hard to be sure of it and, anyway, you can’t punish them if you haven’t asked before. Bad luck for Wilier along this autumn-winter season, a real shame since they make great bikes for a relatively fair price.

  11. oh, and her dominant ride at the recent Koppenberg Cross, where she quickly dropped the women’s Elite field on the first climb, is coming under a LOT of scrutiny.

    • In my experience, cheats in cycling almost never have anything to do with whatever illegality has transpired.
      And if they did transgress, it was just that one time. (And no-one else was involved.)

      • But if Cancellara had been using something like this, with all the cameras on him – and on a solo breakaway, they’d be on him a lot – wouldn’t we be able to see the ‘levers’ he supposedly uses a lot better than on those highly inconclusive youtube videos? There’d be slow motion shots of him crossing the line, still photographs in all the press, etc. And none of them showed anything?

        • I don’t know. What can we really know before actual evidence shows us how the technology work? One thing is experts explaining how a motor could be fitted – based on their knowledge of available technology. Another thing is the systems cheaters have come up with – perhaps based on technology not known to those experts? For me – not an expert in any way – a system not visible in HD photos or in superficial controls is easily immaginable.

          Silly of me, of course, to mention names. My point is more general. If motors begin to appear on the very day UCI introduces a new testing system, it is extremely naive to think that motors weren’t used prior to the tests – not to say in the years prior to all the rumour.

  12. Very sad. As someone else says – only 19 years old!

    I think I prefer riders doping themselves than their bikes…

    In this case, I believe the mechanic has to be banned along with the rider.

      • It’s an interesting subject maybe worth exploring more.

        To help me understand, tell me more why you think using an electric motor is worse than someone taking carcinogenic megadoses of illegally-acquired pharmaceuticals?

        • To answer your question, bear with me, I’m not a lawyer, so I’m having trouble putting my finger on the exact term or phrase to separate the two.

          Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, but to me if I was racing against a doped rider, my anger at racing against that doped person pushes me to beat them as a person. I’m still racing against a human being, who I know is beatable. You can still have an off-day if you’re on EPO, which Brad McGee found out – he still had great wins (eg. prologue at 2003 TdF).

          However, racing against a person with an engine means that I can never push that person into their red zone, EVER, while they’re using it. Imagine if McGee was racing against Millar who had a motorised bike…. Millar would’ve destroyed McGee. But, don’t forget, McGee also beat Lance and Ulrich in that race and they were loaded on EPO.

          Any suggestions on how to describe the discrepancy?

          • However, from a perhaps larger perspective, doping is worse because it endangers the health of the people doing it. It’s only a sport.
            We cannot yet say what the impact of the various drugs taken by cyclists in, say, the last 25 years will have, but some have died directly from EPO use, there seem to be a comparatively large number of early deaths of cyclists from that era and who knows what the future might hold for others – there is rarely no response from the body to things you do to it.

          • Probably best to take the simplest view and not get bogged down in lengthy discussions, moral judgments, minutia or concern for riders health !

            Substance doping is doping = cheating. Mechanical cheating = cheating. Riders/associates made to accept responsibility !

            Lengthy sentences required to deter the problems.

          • I actually think the other way…

            This technological stuff is obviously horrible, but at least it’s far clearer ( as long as it’s caught, that is) what ‘cheating’ is.

            Also, the rider gets no long term gains from the tech – just the advantage whilst in use, unlike biological doping which recent studies are showing can help with performance well after the athlete has stopped taking it. For this reason, I still think long term bio-doping is the bigger enemy

        • Also – everyone wants a lifetime ban for the athlete. I think I heard Patrick LeFevre say it and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard him say that about a doper. DMC has a point, but in another view testing for motors in bikes should be easier to test for. What about an X-ray camera at the finish line? Hehe, would be a sight to see all the screws in the collarbones also

          • Haha, yeah there would be an awful lot of hardware on those collarbones! Would it be safe to say that 50% of racing cyclists in the pro peloton have broken their collarbones.

            The one thing is though, people suspect users of motorised bikes use them at less suspicious times in the race.

            I know that 100% testing is impractical, but I think the teams (both national and trade) should face a massive fine, so large that it makes them responsible and prohibitive for the future. Riders come and go, the Belgian national federation will never leave cycling.

          • Riders come and go, the Belgian national federation will never leave cycling.

            And will never be banished from the UCI! As Thom Wiesel still runs USA Cycling untouched by the rampant doping under his watch, so too will the Belgian federation leaders remain. Hein Verbruggen

            If the sport is to ever gain legitimacy, the level of transparency and accountability would need to dramatically change. Until then, the sport will stagger along from controversy to controversy.

        • I’ve heard quite a few commentators discussing this (possibly including David Millar on a Telegraph Cycling Podcast?), and suggesting that ‘mechanical doping’ would be crossing a rubicon for a rider. A pharma-doped rider can rationalise that it is still their muscle, sweat and suffering that is producing the performance, only slightly enhanced, whereas with a motor you’ve admitted you need completely external assistance.

          And ref John Cowley on sponsors, Wilier were very quick to get some tweets out expressing their disappointment and lack of knowledge. Lots of interesting implications and possible repercussions in terms of who is penalised and the collateral damage.

        • While I’m in no way countenancing doping but you still had to train and suffer while racing. Road racing is, at heart, a sport that celebrates and rewards hard work (as a teenager learning the sport from its then Australian blue collar practitioners – “you do the work, you’ll be good” – unlike say, tennis or golf which required serious coaching from a young age (and often membership of elite local societies. So as most dopers like to self justify, doping let you train harder for longer, not easier, so ethically it’s easier to fit into your cyclist’s world view because it sustains this sort of protestant celebration of dedicated physical effort. A motor. Completely antithetical to this. So it is a crime against the ethos of the sport, and the formal rules.

        • I suppose that in taking drugs the aim is to push the body as far as you can to get results. But using a motor is the opposite – to reduce the physiological effort. A doped rider is yet riding in a bicycle race. The competition that is being distorted is a physiological one. A motorized bike is more fundamental – it destroys the characteristic of what is being raced. It is no longer cycling. Also pharmaceutical doping is generally applicable across all sports –it applies for runners and riders, swimmers and shooters. This form of mechanical cheating is very specific to the bike racing. That is why it can make bike racing look so bad. It may be less risky to the bodies of the riders but is more dangerous for the body of the sport.

        • It is an interesting topic, and I can’t quite say why “motor doping” feels worse. Perhaps it’s the fact that, by adding a motor to the bike, you’ve actually taken yourself outside the sport of cycling, as it’s no longer just the rider powering the bike.

          Whereas doping, in whatever form, may have significant health impacts, but ultimately doesn’t negate the need to power the bike yourself. The chemicals that you’re putting into your body for energy might be different from the chemicals you’re allowed to put into your body for energy, but you still need to pedal. To me, that’s the difference.

        • Twice I typed out carefully considered responses. got a 404 error each time.

          Basically doping is the breach of arbitrary rtules drafted by the authorities. Motors undermine the whole essence of the sport, being that the bikes must be powered by humans.

        • So a study showed the benefit of anabolic steroids in the muscles. They have build a kind of a memory so if you used anabolic steroids ones you will benefit from it your whole life.

          … but I’m not sure about your benefit if you switch off the Motor. Hm … may it’s off then and you have no benefit from it anymore??
          So why should be a ban for motordoping a lifetime if you only have a benefit as long as you have the motor but a ban for anabolic steroids should be a while and you can come back to work?
          I don’t get this point. Sorry

          • Because if you take anabolic steroids you are still beatable by a clean rider. If you use this motor, the effect is so strong it is almost unbeatable. People are saying 100w for 30 minutes, and up to one hour. That effect is epic, and no amount of EPO can match that.

            Using this motor at any point in a race means your competitors are racing against a motorbike… a vehicle you can use to ride home after the race!!!! Would it be fair if people started using scooters?

  13. Immediate maximum fine to both the Belgian Team and her trade team, plus 6-months suspension for the rider. This is ridiculous. What was this bike doing at the race?!?

    Even if her explanation is possible, she and the team is responsible for the bike.

    By the way, so her “friend” has a bike that is exactly like her trade team bikes? Except that it has a small motor inside it? That means her trade team has these bikes set up.

    I suspect her trade team has more involvement than we know about.

    • The version of her account I heard was that she said she’d sold an old team frame/bike to a friend.

      So all that had to happen was for that friend to fit a covert motor. Bring it along to a World Champs race. Get appropriate accreditation to get Pit access. And take the bike, perfectly innocently, into her race pit.

      I dunno, putting it like that, seems legit…..

      • It’s total BS. She sold an old frame/bike to a friend, and then that friend put it back in her pit before the race?!? There are so many holes to this story:

        1. What is her friend’s bike doing at the pit? The rider is a fully supported rider who’ll have her own backup bikes.

        2. How does she sell an “old” frame in the middle of the season (well, tail-end of the season, but it isn’t an old bike at this point)? This part has multiple issues: It isn’t her’s to sell, when did she sell the bike? Did she sell it before the Koppenbergcross? Who did she sell it to, another racer? Was the mechanic engine in it when she sold it?

        3. Let’s accept her story for a second, then if her friend brought the bike into the pits, how did the commissaire’s associate that bike with this professional rider? If it was her friend’s bike, why was it delegated as a race bike? The commissaire’s aren’t taking spectator’s bikes right?

        4. If the story is as she told it, then the rules state that any bike that is allocated as hers’ is HER responsibility, and therefore she’s guilty by omisison, which is still liable to the entire fine.

        5. Why didn’t her mechanic/pit support say to the racer, GET THIS BIKE out of the pit area.

        The only explanation that makes sense is that this bike was the racer’s.

        I’m so mad at this, this is the worst day for cycling in its’ history. This is far worse than EPO in my mind. At least with pharmaceuticals, the rider can have a bad day, regardless of how much they do to themselves. But, if a racer uses this mechanical engine for the first 25% of a race, they’re going to be way way way way fresher at the end, and no one can compete with that.

          • Without saying anymore about this myself, your blogger colleague cyclingtips’ posting by Neal Rogers outlines exactly why this is worse than anything else. Plus, Neal also speculated to the points I discussed above. The mechanic who set up her bike absolutely knew what was going on and both need to be punished to the fullest extents of sporting law. This very likely goes further too.

            Anyways Inrng, thanks for the article and the forum for angry fans to vent. I apologise for over-responding, but I do feel my rants were justified!

      • …and that last year’s race bike was identical to this year’s; that in the year since he bought the bike off her, he changed nothing, not even pedals, saddle, bar tape.

  14. A six-month suspension seems rather ridiculous. If banned for six-months, the offending rider would be back just in time for the start of cyclocross season. I fail to see how that’s any punishment at all.

    If the bike truly belonged to a “friend” as Femke Van den Driessche claims, wouldn’t that same friend immediately have come forward claiming the bike was theirs in an effort to exonerate Femke? Surely this friend who has an elite-level CX bike will come under suspicion in their own races if they are identified.

  15. Question to INRNG and all readers: Aside from the disciplinary hearing of the rider, does anyone know what will happen in terms of an investigation into who is involved? And, if I may speculate, what would come of it?

    Clearly that bike didn’t get there by itself in the pits. Aside from the rider and her direct entourage (most obviously her father and perhaps any personal mechanics), one could imagine her commercial team and staff being involved, but what about the Belgian national squad and its support? Could they have supplied the bike? One could even draft up a scenario where the Belgian Cycling union is complicit…

    What I’m trying to ask is, what will the UCI do to investigate any possibility of organized cheating going on? How can we make sure we can rule out a scenario where there’s an entire organized network behind it, for now and for the future – like in the EPO years?

    • Yeah… agreed, as we’ve all seen in EVERY SINGLE doping scandal in the past, the first infraction is always the tip of the ice berg.

      Remember that the Festina Affair was supposed to bring about clean cycling. Back then the limit of testing was technology, however we have the technology to police this (open the bikes and check them).

      I really hope this issue isn’t bigger

    • An investigation is needed. What makes the whole thing horribly complicated is the fact that the girl was racing in National colours. I don’t know how the pit works, but it’s important to understand that and verify who exactly is liable.
      You just can’t hit hard on a Federation in terms of fine because the damage would be inflicted on the sport, unless the Federation itself is able to gain back the money from the people within the institution whose the personal responsability is – which is far from certain, most probably because they just don’t owe enough (if the fine is *serious* for the Federation).
      DSQing the National team from some competition? Maybe, even if this means damaging other riders. However, it would be more typical a solution when a Federation is involved.

      • You absolutely can blame the federation!!! You fine them a very large amount so that their officials know that they’re just as responsible for the bikes their riders use.

        The Belgian cycling federation is one of the healthiest in our sport, and they can absolutely check the machines of their 30 riders in a World Championship Cyclocross weekend.

        That’s garbage that it’s unreasonable that they’re responsible for their racers’.

        A massive fine on the Belgian Federation is way way way less damaging to the sport than if the public thinks that all cyclists are loaded with EPO and on motorised bikes!! Don’t you get how bad this is?? Any potential sponsor or fan will think that our athletes use engines if this gets any bigger than it is!

        Don’t you remember how seriously some people accused Fabian Cancellara of using an engine to win all his Monuments? If that idea became mainstream thought (I still think it is not possible), then our sport will never be able to regain credibility. This is far worse than EPO. Marathon and track athletes can use EPO too, and the public understands that… but no other sport has the potential for this type of motorised cheating. That’s why this is so bad.

        • What I mean is that if you put a fine on the Federation, if it’s heavy enough to make them feel it, it will affect activities. Not the *people* responsible of checking bikes, or deciding that bikes should be checked, or managing the institution and so on. Hence, they might decide to take no action, since, as you explain, monetary damage is less dangerous than image damage. And it’s not their money, either.
          *And*, if you read more carefully what I wrote, you’d see I’m not excluding that the Federation might deserve a sanction, still the nature of the sanction is a more complicated subject. Besides, it’s a nonsense to expect that the Federation checked all the bikes in the present state of things, when nobody else does anything like that. Obviously, if it was clear that they had to know, or could know, or should have known, that’s a significant burden. But I’ve no idea about how a CX pit exactly works, do you? For instance, my understanding is that CX riders often have a personal mechanic, that would be quite different from what we’re used to in road cycling.
          However, from now on, things might change.

  16. How unfortunate that this happens and people will cheat.

    I think that it’s inevitable that the top 10 finishers bikes in a WT race or stage will be need too be checked and any bike substituted for during a race is also sequestered and checked as a matter of coarse.

    It does seem that team management and frame sponsors do hold themselves to higher degree of complicity in a cheating crime as an individual would have a tough time alone executing this type of endeavor.

  17. Now that UCI apparently have a portable and fast way to scan bikes for hidden motors, it should check the top finishers’ bikes at the end of every stage, check a sample of domestiques’ bikes at the same point, and check all bikes replaced in a mid-race bike change (not necessarily during the change, they could simply scan all the bikes on the team car at the end of the stage). A team mechanic isn’t going to be able to discard a bike during the race (omnipresent video cameras and spectators with smartphones) or remove a motor during the race (ditto).

    Motor doping seems pretty easy to detect, compared with drugs. You don’t need out of competition testing, tests timed to detect micro dosing, or expert review of biological passport data. Scan bike, remove seatpost and crank, bingo.

    CX may be a tricky situation since riders often have personal mechanics, but in road racing it will be hard for the team to escape punishment, since the bikes are all supplied by the team and serviced by team mechanics. No sane team manager will place his own career at risk – if the UCI does the appropriate testing, I think it should be able to control motor doping in top level competition. Lower level races might be a different story: Vivax will, I suspect, continue to find a market for its “invisible” option.

  18. Oh, how hard would it be for manufacturers to add webbing inside their frames to make it harder to install motors?. If mechanics have to start sawing out part of the carbon fiber structure to get access to the bottom bracket from the seat tube, that will be an additional obstacle to motor doping. And a seat tube could also be shaped so that a motor will not physically fit inside – might even have aero benefits.

  19. Now that motors and batteries are becoming smaller, cycles becomes more like motorbikes. It follows that the checks in place for rules compliance at motorbike racing might need to be applied in cycling.

    (However this will need to revisited as minituarisation continues, making assistance from nanomachines feasible. Ultimately biological nanomachines will blur the lines between human and machine.)

    • As someone who works with biological nanomachines on a daily basis, I don’t think you will need to worry about them when it comes to motorized cycle-doping.
      There are other techniques in biology that are a lot more worrying in this respect. The speed at which Crispr based gene editing techniques are evolving means that it will become feasible pretty soon to apply them to humans. You could simply make somebody produce more EPO in their body, no need for needles, no detection with the current tests…

  20. There’s so many simple questions that are currently unanswered (at least in the English press) – do we know if the bike was used? Who brought it into the pit? Who’s the friend? Is the bike – miraculously – the same make, size and build-up as that of our heroine? Did it have a race number attached? Did it have her name sticker on it as so many pros do? Who was minding the bike(s)?

    For this and other reasons, why not have a pre-authorised “chip” put inside every bike a team proposes to use for a top-tier race like the Worlds? That “chip” can then have the added benefit of tracking a rider’s progress in the race, which would only enhance the viewing experience on TV (as I think @INRNG has posted in the past).

    The UCI staff could “scan” for the chip in major races and if it doesn’t have one at the start of the race, it doesn’t get to the start line or put on the car roof (or get access to the pit zone in CX). etc etc. Lots of benefits.

    The young lady’s father’s story could then have been easily disproved as the bike would have been recorded as having gone around the course at some point or the mechanic (cough,”friend”) would be nabbed when trying to submit the bike into the pit zone.

  21. the story as i’ve heard it is that the bike was her old one which she gave to a friend to be able to train with her. not unreasonable to think that said friend would need some assistance to be able to keep up so might augment the power. hence it is plausible that there would be a bike matching Femke’s with the addition of a motor. said motor would perhaps need to be internal to work in a cross situation – no exposed bits to get damaged.

    bringing that bike to a race might be natural, come along to support your friend and do a bit of riding yourself. bringing the motorised bike into the pits seems ridiculously stupid but the story is that since the bike looks the same as Femke’s, a mechanic noticed it and added it to the pit collection (unclear where it actually was, perhaps in the team supporters area. how many bikes in that collection?).

    so i actually find the explanation quite plausible, which is not the same as saying i believe it, just that i can see it could be true. the fact that her brother has been done for EPO does not exactly help the family credibility.

    i haven’t heard any reliable or clear report as to whether the motorised bike was ever used during the race. if it was then surely she would have noticed something was up with the bike (if indeed she was not expecting a motor to be present).

    if the plan was to switch to this bike at a specific point then i would expect the mechanic/team must have been in on the plan to know what special bike she wanted and when.

      • haha, yeah i know! So gullible.

        Lance was clean, right?

        Your last statement is the only accurate one, the mechanic very likely knew exactly what the plan was and has been helping her shield his problem her entire career.

        More plausible explanation for her bad showing this weekend is that she knew she was rumbled. Her mechanic told her that the commissaires took her bike for inspection, and she knew her career was over…

    • Sure. It’s also plausible that she would be able to post the best times, unassisted, up the Koppenberg. And that her brother and herself are witless, innocent victims of the Belgian Federation wrath over some long spilt beer on a commissar’s new suit and tie, after running over his pet rabbit on their new Wilier bikes. By accident, don’t get me wrong.

      Of course, in both cases, Occam might have a theory with less moving parts. So put yourself in her shoes – at that exact point. You say – “Frag, that’s my friend Niklaas bike -ask him, he’s right there. It should never have been in the pits”. At which point, Niklaas (who may or may not be taking one for the team, so to speak) sheepishly looks around and says “yeah, sorry – remember how I was now able to keep up with you on the training bergs? I put a motor on it”.

      I still wouldn’t believe it, but at that point at least these guys look more NFL and less UCI with the total BS they think we’ll swallow. Even for cheating they are effing amateurs – lump this with the vanishing twin and medical waste splash from the gutter excuses…

      I am more mad at cycling cheaters for thinking I’m a total idiot than for their attempts to cheat.

  22. It strikes me that this is relatively easy to guard against. Unlike riders, bikes don’t do too much before and after races, and it isn’t intrusive or demeaning to test them as thoroughly as possible.
    Concerned about this one case though as we know so little. A bike in the pits that was discovered after a tip-off? Excuses are excuses, but it’s also a good way to sabotage a rider. We haven’t yet had a confirmed case of a motor actually being used – and there’s still the problems that a motor makes noise, and is a mechanical brake when its battery is flat. I honestly can’t see this being a viable doping method today, which is why I raise the possibility of sabotage. Not any reason than that – maybe a stupid theory.

    • “…and is a mechanical brake when its battery is flat.” I don’t think that’s correct. From what I’ve read the bike’s perfectly normal in every way until the motor is switched on. As I wrote earlier, this might well be another case of the cheaters one step ahead of the testers…and at this point nobody can say how long it may have been going on as this is just the first time real evidence has been discovered. The idea that bike frames will be designed to be impossible to rig up with motors is a fantasy, creative cheaters could just put the motor in the downtube instead. If the UCI is going to check for the correct frame design they can just as easily check for the motor while some enterprising cheaters can figure out a way to swap in a “doped” bike. Heck, some guys used to “install” clean urine into their bladders before the dope tests, who knows what lengths they’ll go to in cheating with motorized bikes?

      • Mechanically speaking, it is correct. Motors are generators in reverse, and provide resistance to being turned – like those old bicycle dynamos. It could have a freewheel, but that’s another source of noise and complexity.
        I agree that doping is something with a lot of money and desperation in it, but there are a number of things that make this an extremely impractical method.
        And since we still haven’t caught anyone actually doing it, personally I’m going to reserve judgement until it all comes out. I’m considerably more concerned that riders can go very long periods in training without having to give samples. I wonder sometimes if the road to Teide is paved with needles.

        • But presumably it could have a clutch to disengage the motor from the drive when not in use?

          I find the idea of sabotage or a ‘friend’s bike’ risible. I don’t know which commenters on here race cyclocross. Even at the low level I race at it sounds implausible that someone is going to replace a bike with a near identical model without your pit crew / helper noticing. At international level it sounds unbelievably unlikely. Or in fact, just unbelievable!

          I don’t know how noisy the motors are, but I can imagine a short burst up a steep bank with a load of cheering, cowbells, PA system etc. going might not be noticeable. You wouldn’t even need to use the supercharged bike much – a half lap including some long draggy climbs might be enough to win the race for you. Then change back to your normal bike.

  23. Of course this has *absolutely* nothing to do with Cancellara’s unbelievable accelerations in which he crushed his opponents without even getting out of the saddle. No, no, no! Cycling is clean.
    Keep telling yourselves that — until the next electroshock!
    In the meanwhile, I am going to be watching swimming, exclusively 😉 They dope too but at least they don’t use motors.

  24. You’ve got one aspect of the article wrong.

    Technological fraud is defined in article 12.1.013 as a bicycle that is not in compliance with article 1.3.010.

    Article 1.3.010 states very specifically:

    “The bicycle shall be propelled solely, through a chainset, by the legs (inferior muscular chain) moving in a circular movement, without electric or other assistance.”

    The UCI also issued a Clarification Memo ( which states:

    “The movement of the pedal axle around the bottom bracket axle must be completely circular. Oval chainwheels are allowed if the path is circular with a crank arm geometry that does not change.”

    “The addition of mechanical or electrical systems that serve to assist the rider is prohibited. The use of an electronic unit solely to change gears is authorised provided that the attachment to the bicycle does not contravene any regulations.”

    So the rules on “technological doping” are not in the slightest bit vague.

  25. Well sad as it is for the sport and breaching the rules etc I’m intrigued by these motors and would like to see them developed more. As I approach my dotage with its accompanying pains and injuries every little bit helps. A motor that is lightweight and powerful would be great for those who need it. Let’s encourage their development so that the best test bed, which is under racing conditions, can have a positive effect on newer lighter, power sources.

    • you don’t need the testing under races. They are a perfectly legitimate product, used to assist people in the circumstances you note. They are not arcane or secret – they are easy to find online: Vivax, formerly Gruber Assist. There are others, but this was one of the smallest units last time these news were popular.

      Racing is hardly the best crucible for these units. Why? Because most people don’t need a 6.8 kg unit that’s visually undetectable. They need something with higher autonomy (bigger battery), easier to recharge (so no concealed cables needed), and easier to service. As for power/weight – cycling won’t be the incentive, it would be automotive and aerospace electric motors and batteries. That’s where the money is – cycling will simply retrofit some of the advances there.

  26. A very interesting case on so many different levels. There is the UCI who once more showed their incompetence: When the dust has settled, we could well be ending the case with a disciplinarian fine, because the rider and teams didn’t watch the pit well enough. It seems to be established, that the bike was not ridden in the competition (so we have NO first use of a motorised bike in a race as so many claim) and if it turns out her story is true, the damage is done and life still will never be the same for the rider again. The UCI and especially Brian Cookson condemned her before she even got a trial. That man simply is a liability. May his presidency as fast as possible be a thing of the past. He did exactly what the one’s before him did: Throw the rider immediately under the bus to look strong.

    As for punishment: I don’t get, why she should be punished more severe than someone using drugs? It seems people imagine with a motor you don’t have to pedal anymore. That is just nonsense. I think of it as a KERS: It gives you a short advantage in a crucial moment. The difference to EPO is: With EPO or other drugs, you have as much advantage, as you want to get. Train more, take more and you get more-the help of a motor is always limited, if it gives you 20 Watt, it will always give you only 20 Watt. The same can not be said for drugs. I see no reason for harsher punishment, indeed, I think if you let pure emitions aside, it is not as bad as drugs.

    As far as I understand from the various pieces, the motor you can hide in a bike, can give you an advantage over a rider as good as you or a tiny bit better than you, if you use it in crucial sections, but it simply can’t make a bad rider a worldclass rider or a sprinter into a mountaingoat. So if you already are good enough to compete for a Tour de France win, a motor might help you arrive fresh at the last col or overtake your opponent “easily”, but it would never turn a sprinter into a Tour-winner.

    What also is interesting: Women cycling, as well as CX received with just one news-item a huge blow. So it seems men cycling stays in top oft the foodchain a bit longer.


  27. I agree with those who say that this is worse than physiological doping. This is cycle racing, the whole point being you power the thing yourself. If someone has been having EPO for breakfast, lunch and dinner they still have to pedal the bike, they still get tired, they have off days and they still might be crap. You are boosting yourself by 3-6%, but if you were a total dud to start with that wouldnt be enough. In theory with a motor the rider won’t even get tired. It’s like someone beating Usain Bolt in th 100m Olympic final only later for it to be discovered they were actually riding a horse. I would say doping is breaking the rules, riding with a motor in your bike is out and out cheating in that you aren’t actually playing the game that everyone else is.

    Don’t let this confuse anyone that I am pro-doping or some sort of sympathiser with dopers. Not at all.

    • I think you’re getting carried away here – the thing provides 200 watts of power for an hour, certainly making a much larger difference than all of SKY’s “marginal gains” put together, but it’s not like “Fatty McCrankarm” can put his/her feet up on the bars and ride away from the pro peloton. I think cheating is cheating whether it’s breaking the agreed-upon rules by using banned substances or installing a hidden motor in your bike. In both cases you aren’t playing the same game as everyone who is not using dope or a motorized bicycle.

          • 100 extra watts, for an hour, is absolutely huge, particularly is you’re a decent racer to start with.
            Let’s not equate this with caffeine or illegal overshoes!

          • Yeah… 100W, or even if this is overstated and the amount is 50W, would be a MASSIVE gain. Lance never got that kind of an advantage!

            100W would let 1 rider spin along at 260W, in full recovery mode while another rider was working pretty hard.

            If the number is 180W for even 30 minutes… we should be terrified to think that this might actually be in the professional peloton.

        • There are a couple of measurements you use rate these batteries: Watt Hours per Kg, and Watt Hours per Litre. For top of the range cells like these Panasonic ones ( ) the repsective values are 214 Wh/kg and 577 Wh/L. So a 200 Wh boost would give you roughly a kilo of extra weight and would need 0.37 Litres of space. I suspect that the latter figure will be more limiting if you are trying to really hide the battery. So how much free space is there inside the frame of the average bike, how much of that will the motor take up, and how easy is it to find batteries that make the best use of the space? I can’t wait until we see how they fitted everything in there.

          • There’s a LOT of room in the toptube and downtube of modern carbon-fiber bike frames. Might be the only reason for me to ditch my old-school steel machines!! 🙂 I’m kind of surprised the Vivax website doesn’t show any internal battery installations, just the “water bottle” and “seat pack” battery setups….but if La Gazzetta dello Sport’s guy is right, the motor in the seat tube is already old-school cheating! Gimmee a wheel like Ryder Hesjedal seems to have had at La Vuelta 2014. That might even work on my steel bike?

    • I disagree here.

      EPO is a greater advantage psychologically. Someone with more time on their hands can do the watts calcs. But, the more important factor is that a lot of physical doping is not good for a person’s long term health. If people think they can get away with it, especially someone with a limited budget, the corners they have to cut, without a doctor monitoring health, can kill them.

      • I’m not debating whether it’s good for your health. If anything riding a bike with a motor will put less strain on you and be better for you. Obviously taking complicated drugs without medical assistance is a bad idea. What I am saying is taking a motor bike to a cycle race is being a bigger cheat than making your blood a bit thicker or having some amphetamines before training rides. I appreciate I am also exaggerating a bit but it helps when making a point!

  28. OK, the one thing that I haven’t heard is that the friend misplaced his £5k team replica bike after riding on Friday and didn’t worry enough about it to ask around if anyone had seen it until Saturday evening if at all ?

    Seems very odd, I would be making an absol stink about it is my cx bike (much, much cheaper) had gone missing

  29. The thing I find interesting about this is that with ‘biological doping’, the cheats are generally operating one step ahead of the dope testers. This to me seems ‘logical’ as the cheaters push for new methods and the agencies and authorities are constantly playing catch up (thankfully this gap seems to be narrowing).

    Keeping this in mind, consider this discovery of ‘mechanical doping’. There seems to be a general train of thought amongst the cycling community (although appreciate the above comments are more mixed) that the UCI are somehow suddenly ahead of the cheaters here and started using an app on a tablet that knows exactly what to look for on a pro bike with regards to hidden motors.

    I appreciate that there always has to be a ‘first’ person to be caught, but the UCI have been on this path for a while now and I suspect that they aren’t surprised that they have finally snagged someone.

    I understand that the detail with this case isn’t there yet, but based on the way cheaters have been caught in the past with regards to biological doping, it does’t seem too far fetched to me to suggest that the UCI have caught someone before (at a decent level) for mechanical doping and then have developed and defined a method based on this result that will allow them to catch out more people in the future?

    Anyway… all excellent points made above by all responders… another thoroughly interesting post from INRNG.

  30. I believe all this scrutiny and theorizing is perhaps obscuring us from the obvious:
    The bike, motorized, clearly rode itself from her friend’s house to the pit.

  31. Reminds me of my brother who was riding in Spain a year or so back. He was going up one of the famous climbs, he was close to his limit when a woman flew past on her bike. Not wanting to “chicked” or take a dent to his own ego, he took up chase and dug deep trying to close the gap nearly killing himself in the process. He pushed so hard that he eventually had to stop to recover after completely blowing up.

    On the descent he pulled into a café where he noticed the women’s bike that’d passed him and upon closer inspection saw an electric motor!!

  32. Glad the discussion as to which form of cheating may seem more severe occurred. I was interested that I was having this debate within myself. While I loathe all forms, I theorize mechanical doping is a far more severe ethical line to cross. As an athlete I can empathize with supplemental cheating. Especially for those in their (our) stupid years, early 20s already taking numerous supplements, as we all do, to fine tune the body, performance and recovery. And more so, professional athletes, at least back in the day, that took various injections of reasonable supplements. The idea of incrementally getting to that last extremely effective, so many others are doing it, it’s not really detectable however ethically and ultimately health disastrous decisions is somewhat understandable. But the idea of applying a motor just isn’t. It’s incomprehensible.

    • Why? They used to hop trains, take shortcuts or even clench a cork in their teeth – a cork attached by wire to a car!!! I’m having a hard time understanding the hysteria here. The feelings are that the conventional wisdom is that cycling is full of cheating and can never be cleaned up. But the hysteria on motorized bicycles vs pharmaceutical doping doesn’t make sense to me. In some ways it reinforces the CW that cycling’s corrupt and doesn’t care much about anti-doping when lifetime bans for motorized bikes are demanded vs 4 years for using PEDs.

      • Motorised doping is way worse. A clean rider has to beat someone who is on a motorcycle. If the numbers above are accurate, this motorcycle can produce 100w for 1 hour, or 180w for 30 minutes. Don’t you get how insane an advantage that is?? No amount of EPO can do that.

        Sorry, i promised myself i wouldn’t respond anymore. But, I really don’t see why some aren’t seeing how big this is.

        • And guys passed by doped riders have described them “going by me like they were on a motorcycle” Cheating is cheating. The rules are the rules. Violate them and you shouldn’t get to play anymore for the time specified…by the rules. I guess guys who doped or are fans of guys who doped can easily get hysterical about motorized bicycles, but just ho-hum about injecting themselves with banned substances?

          • Please don’t lump me in the category of someone who accepts dopers. I used to race, and completely cleanly… I raced against light dopers, but was stronger than them some days. If one of those guys actually had a 50w booster in his bike it would have been way worse than EPO, amphetamines, etc.

            It’s the Animal Farm scenario, all pigs are equal but some pigs are more equal than others. I dislike all forms of doping equally, but some forms of doping more equally.

            I think penalties need to be harsh for all doping, but for a motorised bike, that had to have complicit mechanics, team staff, etc., the penalty has to be extreme. A motorised bike is a MOTORCYCLE, in a bike race?!?

            Brad McGee BEAT dopers in some scenarios, but if they had a 50w (or up to 180w) motor McGee could NOT have beaten them, you can’t dispute that.

      • At least when a doper is on an offday or in certain circumstances, a clean rider can beat the doper. But, if that doper is on an offday and then switches a motor on?!? That is the difference. That turns a day where the doper will lose a lot of time into a recovery ride.

      • Hear ya. Simply trying to rank a 1 & 2 in the order of these loathsome acts. However, if equal penalties need be applied to demonstrate consistent concern, then yes.

  33. What I’ve been wondering, and haven’t seen anything about, is whether she was racing on a motorized bike? All the stories say the bike was found in the pits (during the race) but there’s no mention of whether the bike she was racing at the time was in fact motorized… Am I missing something?

    • I don’t think you’re missing anything, except that actual evidence of her riding is immaterial RE:UCI rules 12.1.013 Bis (cited above)

      Those establish strict liability on the presence of the motorized bike in the pit. No need to “intend” to use, or evidence of use needed. Understandable, if you recall that Basso stored his blood with Dr. Fuentes but he merely had “thoughts” of getting a transfusion – the good ‘ol boy good had second thoughts and never would have cheated that way. No sir, would never have done that. Boy scout word.

  34. Just a suggestion (and only necessary if the various technologies can be well hidden):
    Unless testing can be comprehensive (at least testing all bikes used by the top ten finishers) and proven to be effective, I favour the only guaranteed solution: the UCI supplies all bikes on the day of the race – and takes them back at the end of the race. (All bikes being identical is a bonus – as is all the bikes being basic and cheap to make; and it gets rid of TT bikes.)
    Much money would be lost, of course – no doubt entire teams would go to the wall. Then again, depending on the extent of the problem, this might be the less extreme action. And other sponsors would come in.

    Please note: ‘unless testing can be comprehensive and proven to be effective’ and ‘only necessary if the various technologies can be well hidden’.

    If the UCI fails to deal with this properly, cycling’s reputation might be terminally tainted.
    Biological cheating can never be fully prevented – mechanical cheating can be.

    • Henri Desgrange tried this back-in-the-day and had to invent a publicity caravan in an attempt to recover lost revenue when the bike makers were kicked out, if I remember correctly. As much as I’m for the “primacy of man over machine” and laugh at the industry’s attempts to convince the punters that this year’s TdF champ won because he was riding a Groundpounder X while his competitors weren’t, your idea would get skewered by so many bike industry sponsors it would never get far. Just like the rest of the cheating that goes on, it can never be totally eliminated but the UCI should do everything in their power to catch the cheats whether they’re using banned substances in their bodies or motors on their bikes.

  35. From the Italian website Tuttobici, an interview to Lelli. I can’t translate, but some technical specs can’t be understood anyway (and Google Translator may offer some help).

    «Le bici le costruisco, quando ne vedi una a terra che continua a girare da sola un pensiero la fai… Il caso di Femke Van den Driessch ha portato alla luce una certezza: le bici motorizzate esistono e possono avere l’aspetto di una due ruote da corsa classica».

    A parlare è Max Lelli, professionista dal 1989 al 2004, attualmente voce tecnica di Raisport e costruttore di biciclette che ci racconta come negli ultimi anni ha realizzato e venduto personalmente 7 biciclette professionali con il “trucchetto”.

    «Personalmente mi sono state commissionate da persone di una certa età, che non gareggiano, ma vogliono continuare a uscire con gli amici senza che loro sappiano che utilizzano il motorino. Si tratta di telai su misura, fasciati, che nel tubo piantone (deve avere una misura che va da 30,9 cm a 31,6 cm di diametro) hanno avvitato il motore e all’interno del telaio i vari cablaggi elettrici che servono per il funzionamento. Non sono bici standard, per prepararle ci vogliono un paio di mesi ma il risultato è impeccabile, da fuori non si vede nulla. Gli ingranaggi sono in plastica, il motorino è molto piccolo e non produce alcun rumore. Il telaio deve pesare un chilo e cento, non può essere troppo leggero perché il kit pesa 1,8 kg. Il motore ha una lunghezza di 22 cm e pesa già da solo 880 grammi. Inizialmente la batteria era stata pensata per essere posta sotto la sella, successivamente veniva nascosta dentro la borraccia, ora ne esistono di tre tipi da inserire nel telaio: da 4,5 ampere litio-ion che dura 45′, da 5,5 ampere per 66′ e da 8,25 ampere che può funzionare fino a 100’».

    Come funziona il meccanismo?

    «Dove si impugna il manubrio, sotto le leve dei freni, c’è un pulsantino molto piccolo che basta sfiorare per attivare il motorino. Unica accortezza: bisogna fare attenzione nel cambiare rapporto davanti, conviene passare dalla moltiplica grande a quella piccola o viceversa prima di attivare il motorino, si tratta di ingranaggi delicati perciò bisogna avere una certa sensibilità. Nelle bici superprofessionali la pila non dura moltissimo, un’ora e mezzo, non di più».

    I professionisti le usano?

    «Per quello che ho visto, qualcuno l’ha usata, poi forse si sono impauriti perchè sono iniziati i controlli… Ora ad alto livello secondo me è impossibile usarli o comunque sarebbe da pazzi. Alcuni casi, che hanno avuto parecchia risonanza mediatica (penso ai discussi cambi di bici), hanno giustamente fatto riflettere e questo week end ci è stato offerto un esempio lampante. 100 watt per una persona normale sono pochi ma per un professionista sono tantissimo. Immaginate semplicemente che un atleta la usi nelle prime ore di gara… Spenderebbe molte meno energie nella prima parte, che potrebbero tornargli utili nel finale».

    E nelle granfondo se ne fa uso?

    «Di sicuro. Sappiamo che c’è gente disposta a tutto per un prosciutto (sorride ironico, ndr). Ricordo che c’è stata una polemica al riguardo nella Prato-Abetone di un anno fa. Non essendoci controlli senz’altro qualcuno fa il furbo. Per quanto mi riguarda le ho vendute a non agonisti. Ho provato a montare motori più potenti dei silenziosi 100 watt e quelli chiaramente si sentono come accade con le classiche bici assistite. Io non sono contrario a questo tipo di mezzo per motivi ludici. Le bici motorizzate stanno aprendo un mercato enorme e possono aiutare chi ne ha bisogno, persone di una certa età o fuori forma. Mia moglie con una mtb a pedalata assistita, in cui il motore è ben visibile, nonostante il poco allenamento riesce a pedalare per 60/70 km. Come per ogni cosa, anche per le bici a motore dipende dall’uso che se ne fa…».

    Giulia De Maio

  36. Better/worse or the same deal as biological doping? I feel in some ways its the worse form of cheating- like turning up to a duel with an Uzi rather than a revolver.

  37. Completely believable the friend has now shown up – why wouldn’t he have taken two days to come forward? That certainly isn’t something you would have done immediately – no, you’d wait for it to become a massive sh1tstorm for your friend first.

  38. ‘Italian bike manufacturer Wilier Triestina has threatened legal action against Belgian rider Femke Van den Driessche.’
    – Are there was that they could make their battery packs more easily detectable? For example (I have zero tech knowledge), it could omit some sort of radio signal?
    They must have known that this eventuality was possible.

  39. A Dutch bike store puts an electric engine made by an Austrian complany into the frame of an Italian bike. Who is accountable?
    Any road bike can be turned into a stealthily assisted bike if the size and shape of the down tube allows it (and since most “upper middle class” frames nowadays are designed for an internal di2 battery it means no brand or manufacturer is safe.
    I would imagne that Wilier could sue the rider for bringing the brand into disrepute and thus breaking the terms of a sponsorship agreement.

  40. If it is true, then it is absolutely pathetic.
    Kind of like the crew on a sail boat in a sailing race turning on the motor and motoring when the wind dies – you just do not do it!
    Ban, ban, and ban!

  41. A team can get suspended/banned due to multiple doping infractions. There have been plenty of discussions around the fairness of this (others being punished for the transgressions of a few) but in the case of mechanical doping, the teams can be 100% sure whether a bike is ‘clean’ or not. Teams however can not be certain one of there riders hasn’t doped. I therefore think the simple answer to how to ensure bikes conform is to ban any team (the management, mechanics etc) from cycling for a substantial period of time and put the onus on the teams to make sure every bike is checked pre and post race. The UCI can perform spot checks, as they do now, to police this.

    It’s an issue of responsibility and often commenters, in regards to doping put the blame on either riders or the UCI and the enablers get a free ride so to speak. With drugs they may be a friend or parent but with motors, at the very least, one team mechanic needs to be involved. Surely this means that the team is ultimately not only responsible but easily able to stop it occurring in the first place?

  42. This excuse doesn’t wash. If somebody gave me an identical bike I would know straight away whether it was mine or not as soon as I got on. Does she expect us to believe that this ‘friend’ (who now turns out to be male) rides with the exact same set up and measurements? That the mechanic who cleaned the bike didn’t identify the motor or differing bottom bracket set-up? Or that when she was riding the bike in warm up or to the start line she didn’t notice something was different?

  43. I think it is pretty well settled that she did not ride this bike that day.

    A person has come forward and said it was his bike, otherwise he hasn’t spoken to the media, yet. That person is a former racer, Belgian, looks on the short side. Dunno any more about him.

    It isn’t established when this guy became the bike’s owner (if he indeed was), when or why the motor was installed, whether she’d ever ridden it with the motor, how or when the bike got into her pits, whether a she or the alleged owner or a mechanic brought it in, what the mechanics did or didn’t do with the bike, etc.

    She has stated her version but presumably corroboration will be wanted. I guess witnesses will be speaking in due course.

    The regulation is strict liability but the circumstances might influence the punishment, whether she ever races again.

    There is much searching for photos or videos of her at prior races to see if she rode that bike at the Kloppenberg or another recent race. Problem is, her bikes all look pretty similar with only small differences.

    • She rode 100 % clean @ Worlds…..That’s why she dropped to 10th place in the first lap and couldn’t come back to the front of the race. Very disappointing for the Belgian and European Champion who started as the big favorite for the title. Of course the Ebike was no longer available in the pits, she had to settle with a normal bike. Chain broke B4 de last lap, so she had a DNF.

  44. Well, well. What an intriguing tale.
    When the story first broke I thought the girl had been caught riding a motorized bike because she suffered a mechanical during the race. But no. Now it seems she never rode the bike, it was never in the race but was left leaning up against her truck after a recce by her pal and then her mechanic cleaned it and took it into the pits where it was kept whilst she was out racing. (Perhaps the pits were so incredibly secure the actual owner could not retrieve the bike.)

    Now it seems Mr. Nico van Muylder has claimed it is his bike. These bikes are generally available if you want to buy them and in the exact livery she was using. It is an amusing thought that, being generally available, any number of people could come forward to say ‘that’s my bike’ in what may be called The Spartacus Defence
    ( ) unlike a previous blogger who instanced Mike Myers.

    Such a Spartacus Defence of course is a particularly delicious idea as it has ironic connotation of a modern day racer who has adopted that same (rather silly) sobriquet and has been tangentially enmeshed in the rumour of motorized doping himself.

    When the Festina Affair broke upon cycling the initial moment was when a car load of drugs was discovered many miles away from the race venue. Such drugs were not generally available and certainly not in such quantity. No one was actually caught taking the drugs in the race but association was so great that under pressure confessions were made. Here in a potentially seminal moment we have one bike that is in the pits of a race; the bike is generally available and no one has been caught riding it. Is the association comparably great therefore? Has the UCI jumped the gun, I wonder? Will the Spartacus Defence have a chance of working?

    The moral that appears though, is that a Spartacus Defence would be impossible if all the machines to be used in any race had to be chipped by the race invigilators. This brings us back to Thursday’s now prescient Slow Change blog -chipping would not only guard against the Spartacus Defence of mechanical cheating but might also be used creatively to allow best tracking of riders during the races and be used to benefit the viewing public at large.

    I am sorry for Wilier. They have not had a good time of it with women’s racing. In the TT World Championships it was a Wilier bike that the New Zealand champion swapped out as inadequate. Now they have a motorized bike associated with a CX World Championship that is too adequate. Damned if you use them, damned if you don’t.

  45. It is very hard to believe that anyone ( and especially mechanics or teammembers) cannot tell the difference in weight between a regular and a” prepared” racing bike. I am not competing anymore, but I still ride a good 9000 K’s a year, I can tell the difference between my several bikes by weight alone.
    Anyone within a racing team touching bikes can tell the difference, using “prepared” bikes demands therefore the complicity of many on all levels from mechanics to truck loaders to fellow racers. Punishing the team and not only the individual doesn’t seem so far fetched.

  46. The standard battery for a vivax assist is claimed to produce 200W for 90minutes. IIRC, reviews suggest 100-120W for 60mins is more realistic. This battery fits in a saddlebag or bottle cage and there is a switch on the bar end. Now I don’t know about CX, but if I were a pro climber in a GT, then an extra 30W for 10minutes on a mountain top finish is all I’d need to break my opponents’ hearts. So my battery could be a lot smaller and could be hidden in a frame tube.
    So what I’d like to know is where was the battery? Was it out on display in a saddlebag or a bidon cage like a legitimate vivax installation? or was it non-standard and hidden? Same for the switch – was it a standard switch, or something hidden under the bar tape?

  47. Yes, apparently the bike belonged to her 39 year old ex pro friend who is now so enfeebled that he needs motor assistance to cycle it.

    The ex pro has gone to a lot of trouble to fit a (possibly unknown / commercially available) hidden drive system that relies on the battery etc. being hidden inside the frame, rather than just put in a saddlepack / bidon. I guess he must have been a bit embarrassed that he now uses battery assist, like 85 year old ex pro Brian Robinson.

    The tale is that her friend pre rode the course before the world champs and then left his bike to cause the confusion. Leaving aside the bike for the moment, surely it isn’t the case that anyone can pre ride the course? If you can do that then I will be at the next Worlds with my bike as that sounds epic.

      • I have not yet seen any motorized system that does not need a sizable battery and, at its neatest, a false bottle to house it. If the bike in the pits indeed had a bottle cage on it in the usual way at a CX race, it was obviously not race ready, the UCI has no case and Mr. Cookson has mouthed off too early again. I wonder if the bike’s owner has a claim against the UCI for wrecking his bike?

        • The battery is the easiest part to engineer, it can be any shape or size you like. We already have batteries in frames for electronic gearing and there are models of e-bikes for shoppers and commuters with the battery concealed in the tube.

          • Then why do Vivax and Typhoon etc not have them that shape? I think you cannot house the battery and the motor together in the seat tubing and reports were all about wiring to the rear tube only.

          • It is disputed – the website shows a Vivax motor but gives no description of set up- refer Vivax site and you will find a bidon in the system

          • Go ask Lelli if you can buy one, his aren’t detectable at close inspection (unless you open them up). Obviously, he sold them only to not-competing riders, just people who wanted that extra spark in the club rides…

          • Gabrielle -Try as might I have not been able to see a Lelli e-bike. I cannot find my way around the Tuttobici site sufficiently without Italian but if Lelli’s own website is anything to go by if his motors are put in the Frustone model, my case stands.

          • I think the Inner Ring is showing some slack thinking here. A Di2 battery is 7.4V; a Vivax Assist battery is 30V -he’s not comparing like with like in his imagination. And have you seen the batteries on e-bikes for shoppers and commuters -they are enormous – often the drive system is in the wheel hubs to overcome the bulk issue.

          • @Anon
            Lelli explains they’re custom-made (the “stealth” bicycles), it’s not what you see on the website. He prepared only some seven or so recently. You buy your own frame, which is however required to have some characteristics he details in the interview, then he operates on it – under *your* responsibility – to instal the motor. He says he needs to cut and glue back the carbon – by the way, the frame becomes more fragile, which is why you can’t sell one of them directly as a proper product, you’d have a lot of legal issues (in Italy if you officially sell a product you can’t decline *all* responsibility, even if you make people sign papers).

  48. The UCI clearly knew something was up with this rider specifically.

    In an interview in December, Mark Barfield (UCI technical director) mentioned:

    “We are changing the way we test… We’ve done our first trial and we have more trials in February. Its first outing, fingers crossed, will be the World Cyclocross Championships….”

    “We’ll probably do our first test in women’s racing next year…”

    And then straight away at the Women’s World Cyclocross Championships, they make a catch.

    • I would think the opposite: They thought that would be the most unlikely place to turn up a positive. And thought they made this even more sure with announcing it beforehand. The UCI has certainly no wish for this disaster.

  49. What I find amusing is that, for years, there has has been a clamber amongst teams, riders, bike manufacturers etc for the UCI to “embrace innovation” and relax the rigid/antiquated rules around bike design, weight, geometry etc. Seems riders/teams/support staff are prepared to push well beyond the boundaries, given half the chance, if there is a competitive advantage to be had. The last thing we need is further opportunities for cheats to attempt to cheat…

  50. You can see the Koppenberg race here:
    Their text:
    ‘In that race, Van den Driessche outclassed some of the best cyclo-cross riders in the world (link is external) on the signature climb from which it takes its name.
    She made it look easy, as you can see in this video at 3 minutes as she pulls away while still in the saddle. Or again, at 11 minutes 45 seconds when even missing a couple of pedal strokes doesn’t affect her rhythm.’

  51. B. Wiggins:
    ‘you’ve got to ask a lot of questions of the athlete, especially the girl that they found it in because she was the favourite to win the race anyway.’

  52. 4.5 watt hour LiPo cell is 25 g, 50 x 35 x 5 mm, $10, will fit through a BB30 bottom bracket, so you can even put them in the downtube if the seattube is too full with motor, Di2 battery, seatpost. 11 of them is 50 watt hour or 200 watt / 15 min. If that gets you 100 watts at the crank for fifteen minutes . . . and you are already a high level rider . . . I think that will win you a CX race or a MTF stage.

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