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by Shane Stokes
July 5, 2016
Photography by Shane Stokes, Cor Vos
ANGERS, France (CT) – UCI president Brian Cookson has pledged cooperation with Tour de France organiser ASO and the French authorities in order to fight the threat of hidden motors.
Prior to the start of the event ASO confirmed that thermal imaging cameras would be introduced in order to enable a moving Grand Tour peloton to be scrutinised for the first time. Such cameras are thought capable of picking up the heat signatures of motors in frames, wheels or hubs.
The UCI’s technical manager Mark Barfield had previously downplayed the need to use such cameras, saying that such checks during a race were too complicated to be practical.
Barfield said that the UCI’s tablet system, which detects magnetic resistance, was sufficient. However ASO didn’t agree and was given the use of new thermal imaging cameras. These were developed by the Commissariat of Atomic Energy at the request of the French government.
Speaking at the race, Cookson said that the UCI was happy to work with ASO and others on this matter.
“Obviously our role is to be the governing body,” he said. “We do the checks, but we are happy to collaborate with ASO and the French authorities to do anything necessary.
“We will be doing our tests, which have become familiar now with the iPad-based system, but we will also use any other forms of testing and will work with the French authorities to do that.”
According to ASO, the UCI will themselves be responsible for using the new equipment. This will include a camera mounted on a motorbike, enabling tests during the race itself.
Cookson didn’t want to elaborate on the ins and outs of the system.
“I don’t want to comment too much on the details of this,” he said. “But from time to time we will implement additional methods to supplement the checks that we have been doing.”
Thus far the only released information is about the standard iPad-based tests. The UCI carried out 162 such tests at the start of stage one and 36 at the finish. Stage two saw 108 and 23 tests respectively, again at the start and at the finish, while stage three had 76 before the start and 26 after.
That makes for a total of 431 magnetic resistance tests in three days. The governing body indicated before the race that it would carry out a total of between 3,000 and 4,000 tests during the Tour.
Cookson was deliberately short on detail about the new system, and he was also guarded in what he said about accusations made against Barfield last month.
On June 12 French TV programme Stade 2 claimed that the Briton may have frustrated a police manoeuvre at last year’s Tour de France.
It said that he had alerted e-bike maker Typhoon about police plans to investigate suspected hidden motor use in the race.
Typhoon is a partner of the UCI but was also the-then employer of controversial engineer Stefano Varjas.
The Hungarian was a person of interest to the French investigators. However, because of Barfield’s message to Typhoon and its subsequent notification to Varjas, he left France and avoided questioning.
On June 13 the UCI said that it would look into the matter. Asked about the current situation in relation to that, Cookson’s response suggested that Barfield would not face action.
“I don’t want to comment on any individual member of UCI staff,” he said. “All I will say is that I have got complete confidence in the staff of the UCI.
“If some information has been misused elsewhere, then this is something that we and the authorities will continue to look into.”
This appears to hint that if anyone is ultimately deemed to be at fault in the matter, it will be Typhoon.
Although allegations about hidden motor use in the peloton first surfaced in 2010, Belgian under 23 rider Femke Van den Driessche is the only confirmed case thus far. The UCI’s tablet detection method was introduced at the cyclocross world championships in January. There, a motor was found in a bike in Van den Driessche’s pit area.
She was found guilty of the charge of technological fraud in April and, as a consequence, was handed a six year ban.
Cookson was asked about this case by a journalist at the Tour, and why he believes that her case is the only one uncovered.
“I think it is very interesting that the first time we used this new system, we caught somebody,” he said. “Maybe that has put a warning out to anybody who is thinking of cheating in the way again. Maybe people have realised that we are on this now, that we can find this.
Femke Van den Driessche races home first in the European youth championships, November 2015.
“My hope is that we have nipped this in the bud, that we have killed this at the first possible opportunity. That if people were considering cheating in this way, that they have realised that actually it is very, very difficult.”
However the journalist pressed him on the issue, asking if it was realistic to think that Van den Driessche may have been the first to use such a device.
“Well, where is the evidence? Like you I have seen the videos and all the rest of it, I have seen the allegations and so on,” he replied. “But nobody has come up with any concrete evidence of anybody cheating in this way before. It is all speculation. And we all have our opinions about that.”
On the subject of evidence, the journalist asked him what he thought of the recent Stade 2 documentaries, which raised questions – including about Giro d’Italia stage winner Primoz Roglic – without definitive proof.
“Well, I think the lack of evidence – you said it, not me – is absolutely clear,” he said. “Look, I welcome investigative journalism. If people can find evidence of people cheating, then that is good. Let us have it.
“If you don’t trust us, let the police have it. As far as I am concerned, nobody will be protected. No team, no rider, no nationality. If someone is found to be cheating, we will take action against them.”
Cookson appeared to be a little frustrated by unsupported claims in this area.
“Look, it is easy to make allegations. It is less easy to find proof,” he said. “I have spoken to a number of people recently, over the last year or so, who have made allegations, and I have always said give me the proof. If you can show me a team that has actually bought these bikes or who has used them, show me where it happened.
“I can’t work on speculation an allegations, I need evidence. Equally the UCI is a sports body. We don’t have powers to go in and arrest somebody or go to the service course or whatever. But what we do have now is the technology and the ability to test virtually every bike at the start of a stage.
“Not just the ones the riders are sitting on, but the ones on the tops of the cars, the ones on the trucks and all the rest of it.
“So, what we have done…have we made it impossible to cheat? Maybe not. But we have made it very, very difficult to get a bike with a motor anywhere near a bike race at this level of professionalism.”
Final word about Van den Driessche. When she was placed under investigation, she was just 19 years of age. It seems almost inconceivable that she acted alone and, in that light, the UCI previously indicated that it would also look into her entourage.
Cookson confirmed to CyclingTips that the matter is ongoing.
“It is still with the lawyers, and we are working with the Belgian authorities on that issue,” he said. “It is not resolved yet.
“It is not the end of the story, I think.”