Nikki Harris reacts to Van den Driessche’s suspension, says it is vital others are also held to account

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Beaten by Femke Van den Driessche in the Koppenbergcross last November but now moved up to second overall after the Belgian’s disqualification, Nikki Harris has said that it is important that anyone who helped the younger rider to cheat should also be punished.

Van de Driessche was handed a six year suspension by the UCI on Tuesday. She had been investigated after a hidden motor was found in a spare bike in her pit area at the world cyclocross championships in January.

The UCI’s Disciplinary Commission concluded that she had broken rules relating to such mechanical doping, or technological fraud.

However Tuesday’s verdict didn’t mention if others would also be sanctioned. Under its regulations, members of an athlete’s entourage can also be punished over the use of hidden motors.

Van den Driessche is 19 years of age and, given the nature of the offence, it is almost certain that she didn’t act alone.

Contacted by CyclingTips, Harris said that she is keen to see others also held to account over what happened.

“I hope that anyone also found to be involved should be punished in some way too. I’m not quite sure on the legality of sporting fraud in Belgium. But hopefully there could possibly be chance of criminal charges to any accomplices and Femke doesn’t take the full rap alone.”

Harrris was speaking from the US, where she is currently on honeymoon with her husband, Team Dimension Data professional Matt Brammeier.

She said that the news of the final verdict really brought home what had happened.

“Of course we all knew it was pretty certain after the bike was detected at Zolder,” Harris stated.

“But too see the final verdict with details of the bike and motor etcetera makes it all seem real and pretty shocking.”

The case is the first confirmed discovery of a hidden motor at a UCI event. It consequently marks a new era of potential cheating.

Femke Van den Driessche races home first in the European youth championships, November 2015.
Femke Van den Driessche races home first in the European youth championships, November 2015.

Beaten by a motor?

The Briton is one of the top cyclocross riders in the world and went into the Koppenbergcross race last November as one of the big challengers. She and others were stunned by Van den Driessche’s surprise performance there, with the 19 year old riding clear of the big guns on the climbs and eventually finishing second.

Harris was one place further back in third.

Those climbing performances came under the microscope after the world championship motor discovery.

In the wake of that, Harris indicated unease about the situation to CyclingTips but didn’t want to go on the record at the time.

Instead, Brammeier spoke about what he saw at the race while helping out with Harris’ support. He said that he considered Van den Driessche’s entourage to be acting in a suspicious manner.

Although the full reasoned decision is yet to be released, it appears the UCI’s Disciplinary Commission also feels that something was up.

Tuesday’s verdict made clear that the commission believes that the motor may have been in use prior to the worlds. Under the released details, Van den Driessche’s suspension was backdated to October 11 2015, the day of the Bpost bank trofee in Ronse, Belgium. She finished eighth there.

She has been stripped of that result, of her European and Belgian under 23 championship titles and her runner-up slot in Koppenbergcross.

Harris’ third place finish behind Van den Driessche has now been revised to second.

“It’s pretty interesting that they did this,” the Boels Dolmans rider said. “I’m guessing they have some kind of evidence or confession when the cheating started.

“I’m pretty sure the whole of Femke’s career will be tarnished by what she did, but of course it’s another welcome decision. And it’s another positive deterrent for anyone thinking of cheating in a similar way.”

As regards that improvement in her result, she said that it wasn’t the nicest of circumstances.

“I guess I have to be happy in some way. I know we all lost prize money, which is equal to the men’s race. Maybe we will get that back, who knows? Also bonus fees will be lost. I can’t see us being able to go back and ask our teams to backdate them.

“You have to feel pretty sorry for Sanne Cant. She missed her opportunity on the podium that day, finishing fourth, and she won’t ever get that back. I guess it’s lucky that she won about 100 races last year anyway!”

Femke Van den Driessche tops the podium in the European youth championships, November 2015.
Femke Van den Driessche tops the podium in the European youth championships, November 2015.

UCI: reasoned decision won’t be issued yet

Tuesday’s verdict raised as many questions as answers. For example, why did the UCI disqualify Van den Driessche from the earlier races? What information did its disciplinary commission have to make that call? Were others involved, and will they be sanctioned too?

Contacted by CyclingTips, a UCI spokesman said that the full reasoned decision would likely be published in a couple of weeks.

In the absence of that document, he said that he didn’t know if anyone else had been punished over the matter. He added that he was also unaware as to what evidence the UCI Disciplinary Commission drew on to strip the rider of her previous results.

At this point in time, all is known is that she has been given a six year suspension plus a 20,000 Swiss franc fine.

Some have called for a lifetime sanction but Harris believes what has been handed down is sufficient.

“I think the sentence is enough…it’s harsh but I really think if someone is caught beyond doubt cheating to this level, then a ban as long as this is necessary. I actually wish similar bans were introduced for doping too.”

As regards the broader issue of hidden motors, Harris said that she’s not sure of the extent of the issue. She believes that it might be overstated.

“I’ve heard calls to have some thermal imaging etcetera as some of the electromagnet monitors aren’t working well enough to find different forms of this doping. But to be honest I’m not convinced it is as widespread as a lot of media are trying to make out.

“Maybe that’s just me being naive but I just don’t think its a widespread problem.

“However it is a possibility, so any added checks, controls will be welcomed by any pro cyclist.”

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