Eddy Merckx has called for life bans for motorised doping and added that he believes such technological fraud to be a worse offence than the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Merckx’s comments follow the UCI’s announcement that it is investigating Belgian under-23 rider Femke Van den Driessche for technological fraud after a motor was discovered in one of her bikes at the Cyclo-cross World Championships on Saturday.
“They have to suspend for life, for me they have to suspend for life,” Merckx told reporters in Doha on Monday on the eve of the Ladies Tour of Qatar. “From what I saw yesterday on the television, [it seemed] it was not the first time. They also showed a cyclo-cross on the Koppenberg [the Koppenberg cross where Van den Driessche finished second] and it was not normal. For me, it’s the worst thing you can do. You might as well go by motorcycle.”
The UCI’s current regulations on technological doping, which came into effect in January 2015, prescribe a minimum suspension of six months and a fine of between 20,000 and 200,000 Swiss Francs.
Merckx was adamant that motorised doping constituted a more brazen and serious form of cheating than the chemical doping that has been a reality in cycling for much of the past century and, as such, warranted heavier sanctions.
“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.”
Rumours of motorised doping have been in the public domain since the spring of 2010, with certain performances in the Spring Classics, Olympic Games and Giro d’Italia falling under particular scrutiny in the intervening period, but Van den Driessche is the first rider to be placed under investigation following a UCI bike check.
Asked if the Van den Driessche case was simply the tip of the iceberg, Merckx looked to downplay speculation that the practice was rife in the professional peloton by suggesting this was an isolated incident.
“I don’t think so; I don’t think the other ones are so stupid to do something like that. That can only happen with riders who don’t have experience. What has happened is very bad for cycling,” Merckx said.
Merckx added that he, himself has taken to using a motorised bike in recent years, but only on leisure rides. “I also have an electric bike, but not for racing. It’s for climbing, for my health. But for racing, I would never use something like that. That’s very bad,” he said.
Asked if the electric motor made him feel like the Merckx of the 1970s, he smiled and shook his head. “No, I was faster before,” he said. “I just do it for my health, for climbing."