Mechanical Doping

doped bike

Mechanical doping is a recent term describing the use of secret motors in competitive cycling events. As a form of ‘technological fraud’ it is banned by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the international governing body of cycling. One of the first allegations of motor doping dates to the 2010 Tour of Flanders when Fabian Cancellara climbed a steep part of Kapelmuur while unusually seated, leading to allegations that there was an powered device hidden in his bike.

The first confirmed use of mechanical doping in the sport was discovered at the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships when one of the bikes of Belgian cyclist Femke Van den Driessche was found to have a secret motor inside.

Ryder Hesjedal was the subject of allegations of mechanical doping during the 2014 Vuelta a España. Hesjedal crashed on stage seven of the race, and video footage of the crash showed his bicycle’s rear wheel continuing to spin after it had fallen onto the road, leading to a number of media outlets including the website of French sports newspaper ‘L’Equipe’ questioning whether the bike contained a motor, although it was suggested by ‘Cycling Weekly’ that the bicycle’s movement could have simply been due to it sliding on a downward gradient. Public pressure on the UCI led to the race commissaires examining the bikes of Hesjedal’s Garmin–Sharp team the following morning: no motors were found. The following spring checks for bike motors were carried out at Paris–Nice, Milan–San Remo, and the Giro d’Italia.

Some sources claim that motorized doping has occurred before in professional cycling, but that it has gone undetected or unproven. It is seen as part of a larger effort by athletes in many sports to gain mechanical advantage in competition. In 2010 former rider Davide Cassani demonstrated a motorized bicycle on the Italian public broadcaster RAI, claiming that similar bikes had been used by some professional cyclists since 2004. The discovery of a motor resulted in a substantial uptick in the level of scrutiny focused on bikes. The UCI has indicated it intends to expend €40,000 to 50,000 to purchase scanning equipment. According to Peter van de Abele of the UCI, it also has an app and tablet with which to scan bikes in seconds. The scandal spread, and is the worst in this sport since the doping scandal that engulfed Lance Armstrong in 2012.

In pertinent part, the UCI technical regulation plainly states: ‘The bicycle shall be propelled solely, through a chainset, by the legs (inferior muscular chain) moving in a circular movement, without electric or other assistance.’ The UCI says that it has a new device which will reveal the existence of electrical circuitry, armatures, batteries, etc., which are where they are not supposed to be. For the 2016 Tour de France, thermal cameras will be used to detect hidden motors.

One Comment to “Mechanical Doping”

  1. It’s a shame the technical advantage developed for cheating couldn’t be used commercially to help encourage more people to take up cycling – I believe a little bit of mechanical help can assist converting people to cycling – is that true?

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