Several weeks after Belgian cyclocross rider Femke Van den Driessche was given a six-year ban for ‘mechanical doping’, UCI president Brian Cookson has indicated that members of the rider’s entourage might also receive sanctions.
Speaking to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, the head of cycling’s governing body said he finds it unlikely Van den Driessche was solely responsible for the illegally modified bike.
“I do not think it all stops here for her entourage,” says Cookson. “Let me put it this way: I can’t imagine that this young lady has done this all on her own.
“If it turns out that other people were involved in the fraud, there could be consequences for them too. If necessary, we will refer them to the Belgian Cycling Federation.”
Installing a concealed motor in a cyclocross bike is a non-trivial task and one that, in all likelihood, requires an experienced mechanic.
Van den Driessche first made headlines during the Cyclocross World Championships in January when a bike in her section of the pits area was found to contain a hidden motor. Van den Driessche claimed the bike belonged to a family friend and that it was left in the pits area by mistake.
In mid March, on the eve of a hearing with the UCI’s Disciplinary Committee, Van den Driessche announced she was retiring from the sport. The UCI handed down its verdict a month later, banning the Belgian until October 2021, fining her 20,000 Swiss francs (AU$28,000) plus the cost of legal proceedings, and stripping her of all results since October 2015. That date is three months before the modified bike was found, suggesting the UCI suspects Van den Driessche of using a hidden motor in previous races as well.
Van den Driessche is currently the only person to have been sanctioned in this case, and indeed the only rider in cycling history to have been officially accused of “technological fraud”.
Van den Driessche’s lawyer, Kristof De Saedeleer, is sceptical of Cookson’s plans to punish members of his client’s support team.
“I have no knowledge of any penalties for the entourage,” De Saedeleer told Het Nieuwsblad. “To whom would it have to go? Her father was indeed called before the commission, but only as a witness, not as a defendant.
“Only Femke herself was liable as a defendant. If sanctions for other people follow, you can only do so through new disciplinary procedures.”
The UCI is yet to publish its Reasoned Decision in the Van den Driessche case. It is expected that this document will provide grounds to initiate new proceedings against those in the rider’s entourage.