CBS 60 Minutes investigates mechanical doping in professional cycling

The respected television show CBS 60 Minutes is expected to broadcast an investigation into mechanical doping in cycling in the new year, with Lance Armstrong apparently facing scrutiny in the investigation.

CBS 60 Minutes reportedly travelled to Hungary to interview Istvan Varjas, the engineer widely believed to be the brains behind the invention of mechanical doping in cycling. He has hinted about the investigation several times and admitted he was paid to share his knowledge.

According to several Cyclingnews sources, the CBS 60 minutes investigation is due to be aired on Saturday January 28.

The Front Page Cycling website has joined the dots between several pieces of evidence and suggests that 60 Minutes reporter Bill Whitaker travelled to Hungary in June of 2016 to meet with Varjas for an interview and demonstrations of mechanical doping. The site also claims that Whitaker has also recently interviewed Armstrong's former teammate Tyler Hamilton, and Greg LeMond, who has often spoken out about mechanical doping and who has been critical of the UCI's strategy to find and deter mechanical doping.

Suspicions of mechanical doping first emerged in 2010, with further reports focusing on several mysterious bike and wheel changes during major races. The UCI discovered a case of mechanical doping involving the bike of Belgian Under-23 rider Femke Van den Driessche at the UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships. She was later banned for six years. The UCI has introduced simple bike checks using a tablet device to detect the magnetic fields that are created by mechanical doping.

Varjas spoke to French newspaper Le Monde in mid-December about the US television investigation, with the French newspaper suggesting the revelations could have as big an impact as the Festina Affaire, which exposed wide-spread doping in the peloton and almost brought the Tour de France to a halt in 1998.

Varjas claimed that he sold one of the first prototypes of a motor at the end of 1998, and as part of an agreement he could not talk about the technology or continue to develop it for 10 years. He did not say who may have benefitted from using a hidden motor during that 10-year period but revealed that he has been paid for information for the US television investigation.

"I wasn't paid for what I did, I was paid not to do it for others," Varjas said according to Le Monde. "To know who uses a motor, you have to look at the cadence. Small motors work better with a high pedal cadence and a small gear."

Le Monde contacted Lance Armstrong as part of its story. He denied ever using mechanical doping during his career when speaking to Ger Gilroy of the Irish Off the Ball radio show show in October, and repeated his denial.

"I've never put a motor in my bike and I've never met Varjas," Armstrong is reported as saying by Le Monde.

Modern motors, reassuring Dr Ferrari

Varjas has suggested that the latest version of hidden motors can give an athlete a 15-second burst of power that allows them to gain an advantage on their rivals that no doping product can match.

"You can activate it remotely by Bluetooth, by remote control or by a watch," Varjas says. "It can be controlled from the team car and the rider may not even be aware that he has a motor. It could just feel like they're having a very good day. That model is designed for high speeds, for time trials."

Varjas has always been skeptical of the UCI's trust in a simple tablet device. His solution to discover hidden magnetic wheels is simple: "Just weigh the rear wheel. If there is an engine, the wheel weighs at least 800g more than the usual weight. If a wheel weighs two kilos, it must be disassembled (to be checked)."

Varjas claims that Armstrong's former coach Dr. Michele Ferrari, who has also been banned for life for doping Armstrong and other athletes, visited him three years ago to try to understand the technology and implications of mechanical doping. Varjas seemed amused that Dr. Ferrari was worried about his future due to mechanical doping replacing his physiological methods of improving performance.

"Ferrari wanted to understand if he'd lost his touch, he couldn't understand if he was losing it or if it was down to motors. I let him test a bike and he understood things," Varjas claimed.

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