Femke Van den Driessche is at the centre of a media storm, accused of being the first rider caught concealing a motor in her racing bike at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships on Saturday. She said the bike did not belong to her but to a friend, Nico Van Muylder, who claimed ownership of the bike, according to a new report in Het Nieuwsblad.
“It’s my bike,” Van Muylder told Het Nieuwsblad. “All I can say is it’s my bike.”
The UCI announced on Saturday that it was investigating possible “technological fraud” and that it had detained a bike from the under-23 women’s race. The Belgian Cycling Federation confirmed to Sporza that the detained bike belonged to European and Belgium's U23 champion Van den Driessche, who races for the trade team Team Kleur op Maat and is sponsored by Wilier.
The next day, UCI President Brian Cookson confirmed in a press conference that the bike in question had a motor concealed inside its tubing, which goes directly against the UCI regulations surrounding technological fraud article 12.1.013.
Van den Driessche and her father vehemently denied that the bike found in the mechanic’s pit during the under-23 women’s race at the cyclo-cross Worlds was hers. She claimed that the bike in question belonged to Van Muylder and that she sold it to him a year ago.
“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.”
Van den Driessche faces a ban of at least six-month and 20,000 Swiss franc fine, although the punishment could be much more severe than that.
Also, her brother Niels is currently serving a suspension for doping.
Van den Driessche’s father and brother charged with stealing expensive birds
Just when you thought Van den Driessche’s story couldn’t possibly get any more bizarre - it does.
A report on hln.be Tuesday says that Van den Driessche’s father, Peter, and brother, Niels, are facing criminal charges for trying to steal two expensive parakeets from the pet store De Gouldamandine in Varsenare. If convicted, they could receive prison sentences of between one and five years, and a fine of up to €3,000.
The store owner, Patricia Inghelbrecht, recognised the two men when she was reading about Van den Driessche’s alleged bike fraud in the newspaper, and immediately linked them to her stolen birds.
"I knew the name of two of the perpetrators and had also learned that one of the two (Niels, ed.) was a cyclist suspended for doping," Inghelbrecht said in the report. "I never made the connection with the hoopla surrounding Femke Van den Driessche to me until this morning while reading the newspaper."
The birds were taken on February 20, 2015, and Inghelbrecht said that she remembers the day well. "Especially because the trio were extremely friendly,” she told hln.be. “They stepped around the shop and watched all the birds carefully. I do not normally get suspicious, but I kept still 10 minutes into the holes on the camera images.”
She said that when she was busy with another customer, the men opened the cages and took the birds, placed them in a bag and left the store. "They even thanked me because they were allowed to look around for a while,” she said in the hln.be report. “The parakeets were quiet as it was dark in those pockets and they thought it was night."
After noticing her birds were missing, Inghelbrecht caught the thieves on video footage from her store and posted their images on Facebook. She later received a tip with the names of the thieves, two of them were Peter and Niels Van den Driessche, and the third was a friend of theirs.
UCI mechanical fraud investigation ongoing
As for Femke Van den Driessche, she has reiterated that the bike detained at the race was not hers and that she had no knowledge of their being a motor hidden inside it. The UCI’s investigation into Van den Driessche and the bike are ongoing.
Inghelbrecht told hln.be that she doesn’t believe Van den Driessche’s claims of being innocent in the mechanical fraud scandal at Worlds because of her family’s connection with stealing parakeets from her store.
"It is clear that they shrink from nothing," she told hln.be. "It's all a coincidence that just a bike that looks [like hers] was placed in the pit? Even with the theft here in the store, they were very cool to work. On the pictures, you can see how father Peter looked around the corner and then signalled to indicate his son and his friend to strike.”
One thing is clear, the Van den Driessche family is embroiled in scandal with Peter and Niels facing criminal charges in bird theft, Niels also serving a suspension for doping, and Femke caught up in the middle of cycling’s first full-blown motorised bike investigation.