Commentary: Motor doping, not your dad’s cheating
Now that cycling has finally nabbed a racer using a motor to make their bike go faster, the sport can once again tape a “kick me” sign to the back of its bib shorts.
As you well know by now, Femke Van den Driessche was caught with a motorised bike at the under-23 cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium.
Technically, she was riding a moped, a vehicle driven by both motor and pedals. Mopeds are also effective in driving away the opposite sex; in many parts of the world they are known as “chastity chariots.”
This is very, very wrong of course, as it falls afoul of the “Wile E. Coyote” section of the UCI rulebook, the section that outlaws activities that are considered “too zany”— activities such as racing a motorcycle in a bike race, painting a tunnel entrance onto the side of a mountain to crash out your opponents, and all manners of anvil dropping. Breaking any of the rules from this special section of the rulebook is both hilarious and deadly serious.
My issue with this “cartoon coyote” style of cheating is that it is not only wrong, it is also super lazy.
The old saying in cycling went that “you couldn’t turn a donkey into a racehorse,” but the 1990s taught us that, if you were willing to turn your blood into something resembling the Play Doh that got squeezed out of the fun factory, you could get really close to turning a donkey into a race horse with injections, transfusions, and patches placed upon dangly parts of one’s anatomy.
The problem with mechanical doping is that you aren’t even starting with a donkey anymore, it’s like turning a platypus into a racehorse, because you don’t even need to start with a donkey — anyone can hop onto a moped and win a bike race.
Back in the halcyon days of cheating, doping at least took some effort, some imagination — one had to find a dodgy doctor, store their blood, evade testers, rent RVs, and intimidate teammates’ wives. It was a lot of work. Despicable, unethical and reprehensible work, but work, nonetheless.
Now, it just takes an afternoon and a few hex wrenches and, boom! You’re a contender. No more waking in the middle of the night to do jumping jacks to prevent your heart from seizing; no more centrifuging your blood to make sure your hematocrit was a perfect 49.9%; no more hotel-room transfusion stations. Now it’s just hit a button and win a race.
Of course, you could see this as an indication that the testing done by WADA is doing its job. There’s so much scrutiny these days, the cheaters surveyed the situation and thought, “Everyone’s so concerned with blood and pee, how about we just make the bike into a motorcycle? Doesn’t that sound a lot easier? And maybe we can order some anvils from Acme while we’re at it, just to be on the safe side.”
The cheaters found the final frontier of fraud, and it was in their seat tubes. It was the perfect plan, until they were caught by the UCI motorcycle cops.
Even Femke’s excuse was disappointing — the bike “belonged to a friend.” That excuse has been used by every teenager caught with a bag of weed! Where’s the “vanishing twin”? Where’s the “shots of Jack Daniels”? Couldn’t they find any “tainted steak”?
I guess hoping for a clever excuse is too much to ask. These are the people who decided to ride a moped in a bike race after all. They’re just lucky they didn’t drop any anvils on themselves.