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Cycling officials keep checking riders' bikes because they suspect there may be motors in them

And the riders are calling it ‘the stupidest thing’ ever.

mechanical doping bikes checked UCI cycling
mechanical doping bikes checked UCI cycling

YOU’VE PROBABLY HEARD way too much about doping and cycling and the sport’s notorious “dirty era” long ruled by one Lance Armstrong.

As is well known, Armstrong and many others in pro cycling used performance-enhancing drugs like EPO to get ahead. But now there’s possibly a (relatively) new kind of cheating taking place in bike racing.

It’s being called “mechanical doping” or “bike doping,” and yet many people don’t even think it’s a real thing.

Still, the governing body of world cycling, the International Cycling Union, or UCI, is taking the matter — or at least the possibility of it — very seriously.

And so it’s inspecting pro cyclists’ bikes after races to check for illegal use of a motor.

That’s right: The world’s top cycling officials believe that pro cyclists, such as those who compete in the world’s largest annual sporting event, the Tour de France, may be cheating by installing motors in their bikes to make them go faster.

Last month at the Giro d’Italia — the most important stage race after the Tour — an official was shown on video checking eventual race winner Alberto Contador’s bike very thoroughly, even removing the cranks:

Source: Cycling Pro/YouTube

The UCI found nothing to indicate mechanical doping in Contador’s bike.
The rider later told Cyclingnews this much after it was suggested that a bike change he’d made during the race was suspicious and could have been because he was using a motor in one of his bikes:

“My bike doesn’t have three motors — it has five! The whole thing about motors is a joke, it comes from the world of science fiction,” he said. “The changes depend on how the stage unfolds. We can use different type of tubulars, bearings or even stiffer wheels. These are solutions that over 30-40km can give a slight advantage. It’s got nothing to do with motors.”

So what was once snarked about on social media as a joke is something that cycling officials are taking quite seriously — so much so that they’ve added new rules, fines, and penalties to the UCI’s rulebook:

“If caught with a hidden motor, a rider could face a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 Swiss francs (or $21,411 to 214,164) and a minimum six-month suspension,” VeloNews reports.

Also according to a VeloNews, quoting a UCI report, the recent “controls” came about, in part, after a “Commission was told of varying efforts to cheat the technical rules, including using motors in frames.”

“[Canadian pro Ryder] Hesjedal was one of five bikes snatched at the finish line by men in dark blue UCI polo shirts as part of an ongoing effort to root out what has, thus far, proven to be a unicorn of a rule violation — a bike that powers itself. Though the technology does exist, few pros seem to think it feasible,” VeloNews reports.

The UCI president, Brian Cookson, told CyclingTips that the governing body was taking the matter of possible mechanical doping seriously: “Our information is that this is a very real possibility. We don’t have any firm evidence but we are absolutely aware that these products are out there and that it is a possibility.

“Given that there have been various allegations and rumours and evidence given to the CIRC that this was a potential area of cheating, we have obviously decided that this is something we should check up on on a regular basis.”

And, unsurprisingly, there are videos on YouTube that purport to show images of mechanical doping, and they show that the matter goes back some time actually.

- Daniel McMahon

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