The UCI has played down media speculation that a type of mechanical doping could already exist in the peloton, saying that there is no evidence that riders are utilising small motors to power their bikes and thus gain an unfair advantage. However the UCI have confirmed to Cyclingnews that they are looking into a method of screening frames in order to remove any doubts.
On Tuesday morning the newspaper L’Avvenire ran a story about what it termed were ‘invisible’ motors that could be hidden within bike tubing and help to power a bike along. It suggested that a rider could utilise such a setup to save energy in the first five hours of racing, then change to a standard bike and ride the finale with an unassisted machine.
The resulting energy saving would make a clear difference in the run-in to the finish, it suggested, as the competitor would be much fresher and thus have more power than his fatiguing rivals.
Il Giornale followed up the story on Wednesday by claiming that spot checks are already being carried out, and saying that some of the bikes of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders had been scrutinised.
There is some confusion as to whether this is a problem for the present or the future. Rumours about this have existed in the peloton for several months. However, speaking to Cyclingnews, the UCI’s Enrico Carpani said there were no indications that riders had already tried to use such motors in races.
“We do not have any knowledge if this product is already in use in competitive cycling,” he said. “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.
“But our equipment commission will follow this issue very carefully because they are obviously interested in everything that could affect cycling in the future. The UCI is studying the machine to find a method to detect it.”
The Giro’s assistant race director Stefano Allocchio also quashed the claims. "There are no souped-up bikes at the Giro," he told the Italian news agency ANSA.
However Marco Bognetti, a previous member of the material commissions and consultant to Jean Wauthier, the current head of the materials unit at the UCI, spoke with a little more urgency.
"It's all true, there’s a suspicion that there are teams and riders who used a 'pedal-assisted' bike,” he told L'Avvenire. “We were first told about it last July, during the Tour de France. We first heard about it from the USA and it set alarm bells ringing."
He elaborated on this to Il Giornale. "We've discovered that it could save a rider between 60 and 100 watts, which is an enormous advantage in the finale of a race. Checks are under way, others are planned. Our technicians are working on a special scanner that will discover the hidden motors inside the frames. All the bikes at the major races will soon be checked."
L’Avvenire gave one example of a mechanism that currently exists on the market. Called the Gruber Assist, the motor is inserted down the seat tube and interacts with a standard bottom bracket axel via a bevel gear unit. It is practically invisible, although the model displayed on its website has an external on/off switch plus a battery pack that is mounted in a saddle bag. The total weight of all of the components is 1900 grams, and can provide 100 watts of power.
Modifications of this or other such devices could presumably limit the external signs of the motor, as a saddle bag would be perceived as unusual in pro racing.