Disconcerting reports from the world cyclocross championships suggest that the Belgian under 23 rider Femke Van den Driessche has become the first rider officially detected as using a motor in her bike, exposing her to severe penalties.
On Saturday afternoon the UCI issued a statement indicating that something serious had happened.
“The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) confirms that pursuant to the UCI’s Regulations on technological fraud a bike has been detained for further investigation following checks at the Women’s Under 23 race of the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. This does not concern any of the riders on the podium.
“Further details will be shared in due course”
Van den Driessche, the European CX champion, has separated been named as the rider concerned. According to Sporza, the Belgian cycling federation confirmed her identity to them.
Although she began the race in Heusden-Zolder as one of the favourites, Van den Driessche ran into issues at the start, being unable to put her foot in the pedal and being caught up in rider traffic. She was also hit by mechanical problems heading onto the final lap. She came across the finish line on foot and abandoned soon afterwards.
Sporza has stated that the bike with the motor was detected in the pits. Riders will often swap bikes during cyclo-cross races, enabling their mechanics to clean mud off during the event and thus limit mechanical issues such as gears and brakes getting snarled up with gloop.
“Our auditors made checks at the start and during the race in the pit and they have established mechanical fraud,” stated UCI coordinator Peter Van den Abeele to Sporza. “For the UCI this the first time that technological fraud is detected and for us this is a downer.
“Was this a specific check? We have controlled for a while at the world championships. In recent years there was trouble and we have changed our technology.”
He said that such detection technology has evolved lately and was able to immediately detect that something was wrong.
In recent months there have been suggestions that heat-detecting technology is one avenue that could be used. It is not clear if this played a part in this particular case.
Although some have previously expressed scepticism about the possible use of motors in bikes, triple Tour de France winner Greg LeMond proved to CyclingTips at the 2015 year’s Tour that it was possible. This followed on from an earlier story testing another machine with a similar motor.
UCI regulation 12.1.013 lays out the sanctions for those proven to have committed technological fraud. The rider in question will be suspended for a minimum of six months and handed a fine of between 20,000 and 200,000 Swiss francs. The rider’s team can also be hit, incurring a ban of at least six months and a fine of between 100,000 and one million Swiss francs.
For the sport, too, there are serious consequences. Van den Driessche’s case appears to have made history for all the wrong reasons, proving that a problem long rumoured as being an issue is indeed a real one.
The use of detection equipment will likely be ramped up across the board, with the potential use of motors being at least as serious and as cynical as doping, if not even more so.