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When on Saturday in Zolder the news broke that “technical fraud” may have been committed by cyclocross racer Femke van den Driessche, former seven-time cyclocross world champion Marianne Vos was still in the press building.
She had delivered race commentary for a Dutch news service and was on her way out when UCI officials released a communiqué stating that a bike had been detained during the women’s Under-23 race for possible technical fraud. Belgian media was quick to connect the offense to the rider and as she was about to leave the venue, Vos was asked to comment.
“I was shocked. And in the moment, I didn’t know what to say,” Vos told Ella CyclingTips. “It’s terrible. I had never thought that it would happen. Of course we had heard rumours of these motors but in my eyes, especially in ‘cross, it was never actually going to happen.”
By now the UCI has confirmed that the technical fraud committed was in fact a motor found inside the frame of Femke Van den Driessche (pictured). The bike was screened in the pit and appears to not have been used in this race but it’s rumoured that the bike may have been used in other events, specifically during her breakout performance at Koppenbergcross when she completed the famed Koppenberg climb 10 seconds ahead of her competition in the elite field.
Van den Driessche has come forward in front of the Belgian media denying that the bike found with the motor is hers, but details remain scarce and the UCI has handed off the case to its Disciplinary Committee.
“I don’t know Femke van den Driessche. Now more rumours are surfacing that there may have been some red flags in previous races and there are some suspicions about her and the people in her entourage, but I wasn’t aware of any of that,” said Vos. “Had I been riding the Koppenberg with her and she’d sprinted away from me, I would have been suspicious, too.”
“It’s a shock for the whole sport. The sport of cycling is already suffering and it puts cyclocross in a bad light,” Vos continued. “It was a beautiful world championships, especially with the debut of the U23 race for women. And this ruins it.”
Doping –mechanical or otherwise– is something Vos feels strongly about and she spoke passionately.
“I cannot imagine that one would make the decision to ride with a motor. I am curious about the true version of Femke’s story of what happened because I am not sure we have heard that yet. And I’m also not sure if we will hear it. But something must have persuaded her or her entourage to do this,” she said. “There wasn’t much to profit of doing it and it would have been about the honour of winning, and how do you get the satisfaction of that honour if you know that you’ve won by cheating.”
And if honour and ethics aren’t a factor, then what about the consequences of getting caught, asked Vos.
“Did she consider where she’d end up, as she is now, how she has thrown away her life. Why would you risk that? She can’t show her face in Belgium anymore. Sure, you’re infuenceable at 19 but you still have a choice. Of course her entourage should be there to protect her from [bad influences], instead the opposite seems to have happened. Aside from the penalty she will receive –whether it’s a year-, two year- or lifetime ban– there is no coming back from this.”
According to UCI regulation 12.1.013, if sanctioned Van den Driessche is looking at a six month ban at minimum and a substantial fine for her and the team involved. At this point, it is unconfirmed whether any team, trade team or the Belgian Federation, were aware of the technical fraud.
The only good news, Vos recognised, is that the UCI did in fact detected the fraudulent bike and that they are investing in technology to continue screening for this in a more efficient manner.
In his first statement to the press after the news broke, UCI president Brian Cookson spoke optimistically about the UCI’s testing methods.
“We will be testing more bikes, more often, more frequently. Our message to those choosing to cheat is that we will catch up with you sooner or later,” Cookson stated. “We are committed to protecting the riders that do not want to cheat and to make sure that the right riders win the races.”