Tour de France 2015 - stage 6
  • Aaron McNany

    Great article, and I think it is important we keep bringing it up until practical, consistent tests are enacted. I’ve thought about the possibility of ‘motor doping’ a few times while watching the Tour this year and I would feel so much better if I knew that the UCI was actively checking bikes.

  • Chris Cochrane

    I’m not sure I’m so concerned about the low rate of inspections. It sounds like approximately 2-3% of bikes have been check after many stages with 25 bikes (more than one per team on average) being inspected so far during the tour. At this rate of inspection, a team using motors would run a high risk of being caught over the course of a tour. I also think the fallout would be much worse – easier to claim a rider was injecting EPO in the hotel bathroom unbeknownst to anyone than claim he had snuck unto the team truck, disassembled the crank and bottom bracket to insert a motor, and put it all back together. Catching a rider means implicating the team. The checks are a prudent idea and I think a handful of inspections every stage are a sufficient disincentive.

    • Neuron1

      If we assume an average of 175 riders (start with 198, attrition to this point 165?) over the 17 stages that is 2925 “bike days”, add in that there are at least 2 bikes per rider per day, therefore 5250 bike days and 25 inspections then we have 0.42% of bikes tested. Maybe even fewer if there are 3 bikes per stage per rider, one on each team car. This does not even take into account the rear wheels which are available in which a motor may be placed. The potential problem is of very large magnitude.

      If the UCI is really serious, maybe the top 5-10 bikes each day plus random samples and the stage winners teammates along with all associated wheels should be tested. It’s a great deal of work but it wouldn’t take long to shut down the potential for nefarious activity.

      • Shane Stokes

        Well said – the percentage of bikes tested is miniscule, and the fact that until yesterday no mountain stages were covered is the biggest worry. You can’t find what you don’t look for, essentially…

      • mt

        How easy would it be to hide a motor in the rear wheel versus (obviously) in the BB? In the wheel hub- modified axle?

        • Mick

          To this point, a rear wheel motor is large (and obvious)… if this is happening, it would be integrated within the frame (ala Gruber/Vivax motors)

    • Tim

      100% agree Chris. What journos seem to forget is that the risk for a team is so high, it’s just not worth it. Any team caught with a motor would fold/cease to exist in minutes.

      Shane – sorry to say, but your journalistic angle seems to be getting more and more cynical. We get it, journos have been burnt before, but give the sport a chance. Do we need to keep cutting off the sport’s nose to spite it’s face?

      • Shane Stokes

        Tim, sorry you feel that way. It’s a journalist’s role to ask questions and if by doing so I can highlight issues that need to be addressed, then I’m happy to be able to do that. We’ve spoken to mechanics who believe it’s not only possible but has already happened in recent years. Brian Cookson’s own comments show how much of an issue it potentially is, which is why the inactivity at the Tour is worth highlighting.

        • Tim

          I agree there’s potential to cheat – but I think there’s only the need to test occasionally. The risk to a cheating team is massive enough that you don’t need to test often. Who would risk their team folding even if there’s only a 1 in 500 chance of being tested each time you race?

          Therefore, in my view there is no issue – the UCI are doing enough. Why bait them on this? There’s plenty more they need to address.

          • BenW

            With the testing as lax as it has been this fortnight, it’s not a high risk for a team at all though. They’ve barely tested any bikes, and the ones they have tested have been the Stage winners and leaders – personally, if I were planning a mechanical doping operation, I’d stick the motors in a Domestique’s bike to allow them to work harder for longer, rather than a leader or stage winner’s bike. Also, this means the Big Name would benefit but in the eyes of the public (mainly because they’re a bit dumb at times – vis. Pharmstrong) he wouldn’t have cheated.

            Would you tolerate anti-doping tests only being carried out on 3 stages of a 21 stage tour? Probably not. This shouldn’t be any different. If testing was as frequent as at Milan – San Remo, then yes that’s a big risk. But of your bike being one of five tested out of a couple of hundred, i.e. a 2% chance or less of being caught? I think some people are sorely tempted.

        • MattF

          I tend to agree with Tim. This is not a sleight against CT or your journalistic integrity, just a concern that the beauty of the sport is slowly but surely being swallowed up by a wave of scepticism, cynicism and criticism. The likes of Kimmage and Walsh (and selected others) were the only sceptical voices amongst a bunch of sycophants and cheerleaders during the doping fuelled 20 (?)) years to 2010. I would argue the journalistic balance has now gone too far the other way.

          • Johnny Hall


            • dormilon

              This is simple — If you want to remove the “wave of scepticism,” test aggressively and transparently. The problem, clearly articulated in the article above, is that that is not being done.

    • Guest

      I agree with you that fewer, intermittent checks seem appropriate. One reason I disagree with the argument that the motor checks need to be done as frequently as doping checks is that the “doping control” systems and results are so different.
      For “classic” doping, you are testing for something that we know is hard to detect, using tests we know can be beaten, and methods that often need interpretation (which means that they can be “explained away” or appealed). Riders don’t dope because they think they won’t be tested, they dope because they think they can beat the tests.
      On the other hand, I think we can agree that a mechanical doping check likely can’t be beaten, and it definitely can’t be explained away or appealed. I’ve got to think you’re only going to mechanically dope if you think you won’t be tested, so a low number of tests should be very effective in shutting it down.

  • Lyre_bird

    Jut mount an IR video camera on the side of the road or on one of the TV motorbikes. Job done.

  • OverIt

    I think mechanical doping at this level of
    competition would be far more easily detected by the team, and therefore
    require many more individuals to be party to the decision. If a rider did it
    on his own surely the team mechanics would pick up on anomalies during race
    service etc. I’m sure many riders would be adept enough to fit these devices,
    but to keep them hidden from the whole team in the same way you could for
    physical doping, would be far more difficult.

    I’d argue that given the extra
    involvement needed, the ease of checking for it by a team manager or
    race director, and the greater team level implications of being caught, that at
    this level of competition it’s highly unlikely for it to occur. At lower levels
    of competition where riders provide and service their own bikes, that is where you
    need to use more scrutiny.

    • That’s a good point @Overit

    • jules

      I’d assume it was team-organised. I can’t see it being a rider doing it alone. There is an infamous case of the Toyota world championship rally team who used over-sized turbos in their cars for a season or so. This was a massive cheat and after being DQ’d, Toyota withdrew from the series for a couple of years I think, to deal with the shame they had brought on themselves :)

      • Dave

        What actually happened with the Toyota turbo restrictor case was:
        1. Toyota Team Europe was banned from running a team for 1996, so they transferred the Celica GT4 cars and race engineers to private teams for the year.
        2. They used the time off to build their new factory and develop the Corolla WRC for the 1998 regulations, which debuted halfway through 1997 and was immediately competitive including getting a podium place.
        Shame might be a feature of Japanese business, but there certainly wasn’t any of it involved in TTE which was mainly run by hard-headed Germans.

        It’s not comparable though. Pushing the regulations and taking the punishment when caught has always been an integral part of motorsport, but adding a motor to provide additional power is very much crossing a line in cycling.

    • Johan

      I disagree. Only two people need to know about it. A mechanic, and the rider.

      Two parties holding secrets is essentially how the entire planet operates. US Postal managed to hide their secret successfully for a decade or more, until Armstrong’s pathological need to conquer others undermined (most) things.

      • RayG

        And the person who’s job it is to give the rider that well-timed bike change. And the other people in the car. And the other people in the team who want to know why the bike change occurred.

        • Johan

          Yes, yes, well done but there’s a work around for all that, it’s called ‘lying.’ I WISH I lived in a world where no one is in collusion. Send me a postcard from the world you live in, it sounds nice.

          Also, you just accurately described the Postal situation, whose collusion fooled the entire peloton. And the media. And the fans. And world leaders. And the publishing industry. And the UC….oh, wait.

  • Andy B

    I feel like the risk would be far too high at this level
    Whilst feasible its black and white – motor vs no motor
    no cow/steak to blame if caught, I cant imagine riders running that risk.. well since they’ve been checking anyway

    • Sean Doyle

      I’d suggest the rewards are even higher. Riders risk injecting dangerous chemicals into their bodies to ride for teams that only pay them minimal wages.

  • Daniel

    Just announce that, after every stage, the bikes ridden by the top five plus a random selection of ten others will be tested. Pros have proven that there is a return from doping, but the level of disdain that would undoubtedly be heaped upon any rider with a motor would surely be career ending. It would not be worth the risk and nobody would do it, if any are now (which I doubt).

    Also agree with the comments regarding the fact that it would need to be a team effort to do this, so unlikely,

  • Aaron J HS

    I think the likelihood of finding “mechanic doping” is particularly low, especially considering that up until this point it has never been found of proven, the idea is really nothing more than a rumour or potential future tend. But while it’s been shown to be possible, the potential for it to develop and/or spread is quite high. The fact that it’s so easy to check, so easy to prove and that there are random inspections would be enough to dissuade most teams from considering it.

    I don’t think the UCI check the bikes expecting to find motors, they check the bikes intending to prevent the use of motors. As long as the inspections remain random and unpredictable it’s arguably just as effective as them being high in volume, but requires far less resources.

    • Sean Doyle

      “I don’t think the UCI check the bikes expecting to find motors, they check the bikes intending to prevent the use of motors. As long as the inspections remain random and unpredictable it’s arguably just as effective as them being high in volume, but requires far less resources.”

      Like testing for doping products? We know how well that really works.

      • Aaron J HS

        Actual chemical doping is a whole other kettle of fish. The test for doping isn’t as simple as removing a crank and having a squizz in the downtube. Neither is the proof of doping as simple as “Look there’s a motor”.

        The issue of testing for doping products is more to do with the effectiveness of the test as opposed to randomness or volume of the testing. The ex-dopers all say that they were never concerned with when or how often they were tested, they were more concerned with what new tests WADA were coming up with.

  • Karl

    While I don’t believe that motors in bikes is a big risk to the sport (easily detectible, undeniable if you’re caught), it is disappointing that the ASO have not conducted more inspections. I would have thought it was a 5 min job per bike at most.

  • ideas man

    Any ideas on alternative checking methods?

    What about keeping all the peleton bikes in a single storage point (with 24/7 security on hand) so that there is no sneak charging of motor batteries overnight? Sure they can charge their DI2 but the inspectors could walk around the room and make sure the charging bikes dont look suspicious. Plus it would stop that problem of bikes being stolen mid-race which happens occasionally.

    Or a portable x-ray machine? Just run them all through the machine at much faster rate (similar to an airport).

    Surely instead of random sampling – they should target the top performers of each stage plus the GC/Points/KOM leaders. If you are motor-doping and are still coming dead last….well, you probably are the least of our worries.

    • Lyre_bird

      See comment above re IR camera. All motors must reject heat, the more compact the motor the higher the temperature it will reach.

      You could scan the entire peloton as it rode past and tag anything suspicious for later inspection.

      • Guy Ross

        Very problematic when used in hot conditions with intense sunlight (think France in July)

        • Lyre_bird

          I don’t think that would be much of a problem.

          Firstly, we are looking for temperature differences which might indicate the presence of a motor, the absolute temperature is just the baseline. Secondly, it would be easy enough to do the data collection in a relatively shaded spot to minimise the influence.

          If the IR camera is used as a screening test, false positives are not a problem, apart from the small increase in testing cost they entail. False negatives are more problematic but even if the rate were 50% that’s a bigger risk than a prudent cheater is likely to take.

          • Guy Ross

            That’s a good point. Possible it is already happening. Getting photos of UCI taking bikes apart is one thing, finding that guy holding a camera on the side of the road?

            Possibly the disassembly of bikes are those that have been ‘tagged’ as you suggest.

    • Guy Ross

      I think the best way is already available and would cover 100% of bikes in the peloton and convoy. It is an ‘in motion’ x-ray scanning system already used at many international ports of entry.

      If this was placed on a steep narrow climb (where you would expect motors to be used) then the scanning could be passive and 100% accurate.

      • Lyre_bird

        Yep, that would work a treat if the peloton was going at 4 kmh (read the fine print).

        • Guy Ross

          Thanks for that. I’ll take your snark and raise you this:

          That has a listed drivethrough rate of 12 kmh which the riders all hit on portions of climbs yesterday (per strava).

          This system is for container haulers. I don’t know but would guess they could see if there was a motor even if the riders pass through at 20 kmh.

        • Guy Ross

          Oh, and the dosage of X-rays is that of 3 minutes on an airplane, that too is in the fine print.

          • Lyre_bird

            Sorry if that sounded snarky. X rays could work, but IMO they’ll be more difficult and more expensive because you need a source and a detector; electronic X-ray detectors are expensive because of the energy levels involved, which damage standard electronics. A fully passive system based on a lower energy radiation will likely be cheaper and easier to implement.

            • Guy Ross

              Ha! No, not at all. As a Yankee I possibly enjoy confrontation a bit too much. Cheers!

  • ChrisBranch

    Back in the day doping would have been considered high risk but we’ve seen whole teams do that so why not whole teams or part of a team using a motor?

    • Nath

      Doping has become high risk only relatively recently. Doping in the early 20th century was commonplace and no tests were available. I am not sure the term ‘doping’ even existed. The 1950s/60s saw some basic tests introduced but given the attitude of riders (eg.Anquetil) it didn’t seem to be considered a risk. You could probably argue that doping was only seen as risky post 1998, and even then some thought it a risk worth taking.

      • Lyre_bird

        Tom Simpson died in 1967

  • RayG

    How comparable is this to the rate of doping controls carried out during the tour? It’s not like they test every rider every day, either. The reasons suggested here for lower likelihood of motor-doping are pretty reasonable and might mean you wouldn’t need to have a checking regime as tight as the drug testing.

    These are random checks, as well. They’re like mobile speed cameras, the possibility of getting caught anywhere can contribute to a higher rate of obeying the law everywhere.

    And using Michele Ferrari to support your arguments. Really?

    • Sean Doyle

      Ferrari has never pulled punches though. If anyone knows about cheating going on I suspect he would.

  • Callum Dwyer

    Why are the commissaires using a camera to look inside the frame? Unless there cog teeth on the crank spindle (which there isn’t in the photo) the motor can turn the cranks.

  • Tom Wells

    Anyone else think this sort of thing should also be investigated by the ASO and not just the UCI? It’s their race and the last thing they want is something else to tarnish its image.

    • Dave

      I certainly think they should be putting pressure on the UCI, but doing the work themselves would be a bad thing in my opinion. It’s good for the sport that different bodies are regulating the sport (even if they should be doing a better job) and promoting the events, to have either body crossing over into the other’s work would create major conflicts of interest.


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