The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has confirmed the first case of “mechanical doping” at the Cyclocross World Championships. UCI president Brian Cookson revealed that a concealed motor was found in Femke Van den Driessche’s bike when the 19-year-old Belgian rider pulled out of the race with mechanical problems. This is the first case of mechanical doping in a top-level elite competition.
The bike was confiscated on Saturday after Van den Driessche, who was competing in the inaugural under-23 women’s race, was forced to pull over and was suspected of technological fraud, or “mechanical doping,” when electrical cables were found in the seat tube. Cycling News reported a press release by the UCI saying they were investigating a rider’s bike for alleged technical fraud. This has since been confirmed by the finding of a motor inside the frame.
Cookson was quoted in The Mirror calling it “absolutely clear” that it contained an electrical motor, and issued a warning to any cyclists who might be considering mechanical cheating to boost their performance in competitions.
“It’s absolutely clear that there was technological fraud. There was a concealed motor. I don’t think there are any secrets about that,” Cookson said. “Technological fraud is unacceptable. We want the minority who may consider cheating to know that, increasingly there is no place to hide, and sooner or later they will pay for the damage they’re causing to our sport.”
Rumors of mechanical and technological doping in the championships have abounded for some time; the UCI has a clause against it in its official rules and has instituted procedures for checking bikes, similar to what is done with vehicles in racing. However, this has the dubious honor of being the first case to be confirmed in a major competition. Reportedly, a computer that can read radio frequencies was used to detect the hidden motor, which led to the removal of the bicycle seat and visual confirmation of the wires sticking out.
“We’ve heard some stories for a long time now about the possibility of this,” Cookson was cited as saying by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “I am committed and the UCI is committed to protecting the riders who do not want to cheat in whatever form and to make sure that the right riders win the race. To all the people who want to cheat, yesterday we sent a clear message: we will catch you and we will punish you because our technology to detect such fraud seems to work.”
According to road.cc, Van den Driessche spoke to Belgian TV channel Sporza, tearfully denying all knowledge of the motor and insisting upon her innocence.
“It wasn’t my bike, it was that of a friend and was identical to mine. This friend went around the course Saturday before dropping off the bike in the truck. A mechanic, thinking it was my bike, cleaned it and prepared it for my race.”
Van den Driessche claims she was totally unaware of any wrongdoing or the concealed motor, adding, “I feel really terrible. I’m aware I have a big problem. I have no fears of an inquiry into this. I have done nothing wrong.”
Belgian national coach Rudy De Bie expressed his disgust regarding the case, saying his relationship with Van den Driessche was over. Chris Young, team manager for the Great Britain team (whose Evie Richards celebrated a win in the race) told Cycling Weekly that he worries about the implications of mechanical doping.
“Every rider just can’t believe what has happened. It’s as bad as drug doping if not worse. It’s not just a girl who has allowed it to happen. Someone has put the motor in. It makes you wonder who else has them.”
The case is currently under investigation by the UCI’s disciplinary commission. Should she be found guilty of cheating, Van den Driessche faces potential penalties of a minimum six-month suspension a fine of between 20,000 to 200,000 Swiss francs (180,000 Euros).
[Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images]