Mechanical doping: A brief history

Motors in bikes, from the first rumors to detection at Worlds

It began as a whisper campaign back in 2010. Fabian Cancellara rode away from Tom Boonen on the steepest part of the Kapelmuur in the Tour of Flanders, leaving the Belgian commentators stunned at the force of his acceleration while seated. From the first speculation that there could be a motor hidden in the Swiss star's bike, there would be no putting the genie back into the bottle.

What is mechanical doping? - July 16, 2015

It was the first wide-spread reporting on the technology that some denied existed - tiny motors that could add watts to a rider's pedal stroke. The battery-driven device sits in the bottom bracket area, and helps propel the crank arms around. The rider still needs to pedal, but an assist of even just 50 watts could be a race-winning amount.

UCI denies reports of motorised doping - May 19, 2010

Even UCI President Pat McQuaid denied the technology would be in practical use in the pro peloton.

“We do not have any knowledge if this product is already in use in competitive cycling,” he said at the time. “At this point in time, we don’t have any evidence that leads us to the conclusion that this kind of engine is already in use in the peloton."

Lefevere takes mechanical doping seriously - June 01, 2010

Boonen's Quickstep team manager, on the other hand, took the allegations seriously. "It would be worse than doping,” Lefevere said. “Even pure theft.”

UCI to discuss 'motorised doping' issue - June 02, 2010

Eventually the UCI was forced to consider the possibility, even though McQuaid continued to deny that it would be practical. "They are still not invisible," he said. "All the evidence we're seeing . . . is that the battery is about the size of a bag of sugar."

Team Saxo Bank rejects insinuations of mechanical doping - June 03, 2010

Cancellara's team staunchly defended their rider with an emphatic statement:

"There was not and never has been a motor in any Team Saxo Bank rider's bike," the team wrote. "Fabian's victories are the result of dedication, hard work and sacrifice as well as his unique ability to rise to the occasion when striving to reach his goals. We are confident that the public can see through the nonsense this myth has presented and respect Fabian for what he is. A true Champion."

Boardman warned the UCI of risks of bike doping - June 04, 2010

As the discussions carried on, Chris Boardman chimed in to say he'd warned the UCI about the motors a year before the rumors even started.

"I sat at a meeting with the UCI last year and drew on the blackboard exactly how this might work," Boardman told the Telegraph. "I showed them some of the sophisticated boosting technology now available, mainly from F1 teams, that can get a kilowatt out of a single AAA battery. And don't forget electrically operated gears are legal these days so there is already a power source on many bikes. I think it would be fair to say there was a stunned silence after I said my piece."

Cancellara: My body is my motor - June 11, 2010

Cancellara still maintained that the only engine he has is his body.

Italian judge opens investigation into motorised bikes - June 12, 2010

Italian journalist Davide Cassani showed video evidence of the motor's existence, and said it has been used in races. He showed a device with a battery hidden in a bidon.

UCI to start bike scanning - June 19, 2010

The UCI decided that they should start checking the bikes, beginning with the Tour de France, stating it is “necessary to bolster measures that have already been put in place". In addition to visual inspection, they brought in scanners to check for motors.

Bikes to be scanned after Tour de France stages - July 03, 2010

The UCI began using a scanner similar to the machines used to check luggage at airports at the 2010 Tour de France.

UCI checked for motors in bikes at cyclo-cross Worlds - February 03, 2014

In 2014, the UCI reported the first use of the scanners at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships.

UCI check 36 Milan-San Remo bikes for motors - March 23, 2015

Checks continued in the Spring Classics, with 11 bikes from Trek Factory Racing, Etixx-Quickstep and TInkoff-Saxo being examined in a special area set up by the UCI.

UCI introduces new sanctions against motorised doping - April 30, 2015

The UCI set down rules for technological fraud, as they call mechanical doping, giving riders a minimum of six months ban and a fine of between 20,000 and 200,000 Swiss Francs. Teams can also face disqualification, a suspension of at least six months and a fine of between 100,000 and 1 million Swiss Francs.

Contador responds to Cipollini’s doubts about motors and bike changes - May 15, 2015

Giro d'Italia winner Alberto Contador raised suspicions by taking some oddly timed bike changes in the race. With all the rumors swirling around motors, some assumed he was using the swaps to get on a bike with a motor, to which he responded: "The whole thing about motors is a joke, it comes from the world of science fiction. The changes depend on how the stage unfolds, we can use different type of tubulars, bearings or even stiffer wheels. These are solutions that over 30-40km can give a slight advantage. It’s got nothing to do with motors."

Video: UCI checks Alberto Contador's bike for motor - May 29, 2015

UCI officials disassembled Contador's bike and find nothing

Tour de France shorts: Bikes checked for mechanical doping - July 13, 2015

The UCI continued checks at the Tour de France, testing Jakob Fuglsang and Tanel Kangert (Astana), Daniele Bennati and Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Damiano Caruso (BMC) before the team time trial.

UCI serious about mechanical doping but number of tests remain low - July 25, 2015

The UCI reiterated its seriousness about the issue, but only ran a few checks at the Tour de France.

UCI test Froome, Contador and Pinot bikes on Alpe d'Huez for mechanical doping - July 26, 2016

Cyclingnews got a look inside the testing process, and found that the UCI was not only looking for motors hidden in the frames, but devices in the wheels as well.

“As for wheel checks, we have inspected all wheels on all bikes we have tested. They are checked to ensure that they have been tested and approved in accordance with our technical regulations,” the UCI told Cyclingnews. “We then remove the wheels from the bike and give them a visual check to look for signs of any modifications. The wheels are then checked for balance which would indicate the presence of additional components and finally we check the bearings run smoothly and without resistance which would also indicate the presence of additional unauthorised components.”

LeMond: The UCI should use a heat gun to detect motors - May 29, 2015

Greg LeMond believed the rumors, and gave some practical advice to the UCI: “I know that motors exist, I’ve ridden a bike with one and I’ve met the inventor and talked about it. If people think they don’t exist, they’re fooling themselves, so I think it’s a justified suspicion. I believe it’s also been used in the peloton. It seems too incredible that someone would do it, but I know it’s real. It’s simple to check for, much easier than doping, but not by looking down the tube. You need a thermal heat gun, you can use it in the race. It can see from metres away if there a difference in the heat in the bottom bracket. I’d recommend that to the UCI.”

UCI investigates possible bike fraud at cyclo-cross Worlds - January 30, 2016

The first hint of a motor being found came from the U23 women's race at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Zolder, Belgium when the UCI seized Belgian Femke Van den Driessche's bike from the pits.

UCI confirms motorised doping uncovered at cyclo-cross World Championships - January 31, 2016

The UCI confirmed both that a motor had been found in a bike from Van den Driessche's pit area, and that they have been using new detection methods - rumoured to be a tablet app. "To all the people who want to cheat, yesterday we sent a clear message: we will catch you and we will punish you because our technology to detect such fraud seems to work,” UCI president Brian Cookson said.

Femke Van den Driessche denies using motor at cyclo-cross World Championships - January 31, 2016

“I don’t know how it got there. I’m focused on myself on that day. I took care of myself. I was in front. At the back, the mechanics made a mistake,” Van den Driessche said. “They can check everything: all my cross bikes, all my road bikes. They will not find anything. I’m 100 per cent sure about it."

Wilier Triestina to take legal action after motor found in bike at cyclo-cross Worlds - February 01, 2016

Van den Driessche’s friend claims ownership of motorised bike - February 02, 2016

“That bike belongs to a friend of mine,” she said. “He trains along with us. He joined my brothers and my father. That friend joined my brother at the reconnaissance, and he placed the bike against the truck, but it’s identical to mine. Last year he bought it from me. My mechanics have cleaned the bike and put it in the truck. They must’ve thought that it was my bike. I don’t know how it happened.”

Merckx calls for life bans for motorised doping offences - February 01, 2016

“For me it’s more than doping, it’s more than doping. It gives you 50 watts more, or even 100, it depends,” Merckx said. “That’s nothing to do with cycling anymore. That’s motorcycling. They have to go riding with [Valentino] Rossi.”

Froome calls on UCI to increase checks for motors - February 02, 2016

"For the last few years now there have been rumours about motors being concealed within the bikes. It's a concern that I've had, something that I've brought up with the UCI Independent Commission when I sat down with them and said ‘listen, from my point of view there are these rumours, it would be my advice that the UCI implements controls and measures to start checking bikes more regularly'," Froome said.

Bardet confident motorised doping problem can be sorted - February 02, 2016

"Now that the first case has been found the investigations into this needs to be pushed a little further to see the extent of the phenomenon. I hope for our sport that it is a very isolated case. At the Tour de France we have seen that the bikes are checked, and it’s good that this will extend to other disciplines," Bardet said.

Wiggins sure motor doping has been going on for some time - February 02, 2016

“For five years now they’ve had this suspicion because they’ve been checking the bikes. I think it is the first one they’ve found, but I’m sure that it has happened in the past, but they haven’t found them."

Electromagnetic wheels are the new frontier of mechanical doping, claims Gazzetta dello Sport - February 01, 2016

The Italians were again at the forefront of news on mechanical doping, stating that motors in frames were old technology.

“A motor hidden in the seat tube is old stuff, almost artisan. It’s been overtaken, it’s a poor man’s doping,” Gazzetta dello Sport's Claudio Ghisalberti wrote. “The new frontier is far more technologically advanced and ten times as expensive. It’s in the rear wheel: it costs 200,000 Euros, and there’s a waiting list of six months. The first type uses a motor to turn the cranks; the second is electromagnetic.”

Mechanical doping and what it means for cycling - Cyclingnews Podcast - February 03, 2016

UCI sends Van den Driessche’s mechanical doping case to Disciplinary Commission - February 10, 2016

The UCI has referred Femke Van den Driessche’s mechanical doping case to its independent Disciplinary Commission for review, according to a statement from the UCI Wednesday.

“Pursuant to the UCI Regulations related to technological fraud, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has today referred the case to the Disciplinary Commission which will hear all relevant parties in the weeks to come,” the statement from the UCI read.

Mechanical dopers should be heavily punished, says CPA- February 16, 2016

CPA President Gianni Bugno said that mechanical doping is hardly a problem in the pro road peloton, and supported the UCI's efforts. "We are convinced that the UCI is doing its best to improve and refine the controls and we hope there will be a progress, with the cooperation of manufacturers, in order to remove any doubt about the athletes' performances. We, too, within our association, are looking for solutions to make controls the most precise and quick as possible and we know we can count on the full cooperation of the riders," Bugno said.

Van den Driessche stops defence against mechanical doping charge - March 14, 2016

Van den Driessche's hearing at the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland proved cost prohibitive, and she decided to quit the sport rather than fund her defense.

"After consulting with my lawyers and my family, I have decided to discontinue my defence at the hearing in Aigle," she said, according to "I have decided for myself to stop cyclo-cross. The costs of the meeting in Switzerland will be too high for me. An acquittal is impossible, the bike was in my pit zone."

The UCI upped its checks for motors using a tablet that detects magnetic fields as the detection method

Mechanical doping used in Strade Bianche and Coppi e Bartali, claims investigation - April 17, 2016

A joint investigation into mechanical doping by French television programme Stade 2 and Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera claimed that the UCI's tablet is ineffective, and purported to have evidence using thermal cameras that there have been motors used in the professional peloton - as recently as Strade Bianche and the Coppi e Bartali. The investigation showed technology that hides motors inside the rims of deep dish carbon wheels.

UCI reacts to criticism in French and Italian media mechanical doping investigation - April 17, 2016

The UCI rejected criticisms that its tablet device is ineffective in detecting motors, stating, "We have looked at thermal imaging, x-ray and ultrasonic testing but by far the most cost effective, reliable and accurate method has proved to be magnetic resonance testing using software we have created in partnership with a company of specialist developers. The scanning is done with a tablet and enables an operator to test the frame and wheels of a bike in less than a minute."

Bugno calls on UCI to use heat cameras to detect mechanical doping - April 18, 2016

Bugno reversed his support of the UCI's efforts to detect mechanical doping after the Stade 2 report. As a helicopter pilot, Bugno said he uses thermal cameras like the investigators used, and said they are very efficient and precise. “How come it took so long for thermal cameras to be used? I use them everyday in my helicopter when we diagnose problems with high-voltage power cables," Bugno said. "Why they haven’t been used to look for hidden motors in bikes is a mystery,” Bugno told Monday’s Corriere della Sera newspaper.

“The magnetic field detectors seem less efficient. The UCI has to use thermal cameras in races and then break down the suspect bikes to see if they can find something.”





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