French magistrates investigating 'big-name riders' for mechanical doping

Satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaine claims financial experts are leading the investigation

According to French satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaîné, two highly respected magistrates have opened an investigation into alleged mechanical doping in cycling.

The weekly magazine claims that financial magistrates Claire Thépaut and Serge Tournaire were appointed last summer after a preliminary investigation to look at a possible plot "put together at the highest level" that has "benefited big-name riders, allowing them to take advantage of the latest technological advances in the field of electric motors".

The investigation is also reported to be looking at "links between international teams, private companies and cycling's highest authorities". It suggests that "the 'extraterrestrial' performances on some climbs have lead to doubts: have they gone beyond the 'biological doping' that has been used in the peloton for more than a century."

Le Canard Enchaîné article – published on the front page of the magazine on Wednesday, has been reported widely in France. The two financial magistrates are apparently supported by the financial crimes division of the French police force.

Cyclingnews contacted the UCI for comment on Wednesday, and the governing body welcomed the new information. 

"The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) takes note of the information published today in Le Canard Enchaîné reporting that an investigation is underway in France in the context of the fight against technological fraud. We welcome any assistance that could be brought to us in this field, which is one of the key priorities of the UCI President's mandate, and are available to provide any help necessary to the competent jurisdictions," read a statement.

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The UCI has carried thousands of checks against mechanical doping using a simple tablet device that detects magnetic fields. However there have been reports of the use of hidden magnetic wheels and shielding technology that makes it difficult to detect mechanical doping with the tablet.

There have three confirmed cases of mechanical doping. In 2016, Belgian under 23 rider Femke Van den Driessche was caught with a rudimentary hidden motor in her bike at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships and was given a six-year ban. In October local French racer Cyril Fontayne was caught using a bike equipped with a motor during a minor race near Périgueux. In Italy another veteran rider was reported to have been caught with a similar device. Both are yet to be sentenced.

New UCI President David Lappartient has promised a crackdown on mechanical doping after doubts were raised about the efficiency of the UCI's magnetic tablets. He said that heat guns and x-rays will be used alongside the UCI's tablet device at future professional races. He is expected to present his new strategy to fight mechanical doping in the New Year.

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