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In a segment that aired Sunday evening in the United States, CBS News program 60 Minutes took on the subject of motorized doping in professional cycling, raising questions about Team Sky and the UCI at the 2015 Tour de France.
While no direct evidence was provided that Team Sky had cheated at the 2015 Tour, the segment, hosted by Bill Whitaker and focusing on Hungarian hidden-motor inventor Istvan “Stefano” Varjas, went to lengths to suggest that wrongdoing may have taken place.
Asked if he believes bikes with hidden motors are being used in professional cycling, Varjas answered, “Yes, I know this. They are used, yes.”
Along with three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond and his wife Kathy, Varjas has cooperated with French police investigating the matter at the Tour de France, first in 2014 and again in 2015.
According to 60 Minutes, Varjas told French investigators that before the 2015 Tour he sold bikes with hidden motors to an unknown client, allegedly through a middle man, and was directed to deliver bikes into a locked storage room in Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, a seaside village on the French Riviera located between Nice and Monaco.
In addition to motors that can fit in a frame, Varjas told the LeMonds he had also designed a motor that can be hidden inside the hub of rear wheel. The added weight, he told them, was about 800 grams (1.76 pounds).
“Stefano had said, ‘Weigh the wheels. You’ll find the wheels. The wheels are in the peloton,’” Kathy LeMond said.
According to 60 Minutes, at the 2015 Tour de France, all bikes were weighed before a time trial; French police told 60 Minutes that only one team had bikes that weighed more than the others — Team Sky. All the team’s bikes weighed about 800g more than the others.
The 2015 Tour featured two time trials: Stage 1, in Utrecht, and the Stage 9 team time trial from Vannes to Plumelec. 60 Minutes did not specify which stage Team Sky’s bikes weighed in heavier than the others. BMC Racing won the 28km (17mi) stage in a time of 32:15, averaging 52.09kph (32.36mph), one second ahead of Team Sky.
A spokesman for Team Sky told 60 Minutes that the team’s TT bikes might have been heavier to allow for better aerodynamics, that the team had never used any kind of mechanical assistance, and that the 2015 Tour bikes were checked and cleared by the UCI.
According to 60 Minutes, unnamed sources told them that the UCI would not allow investigators to remove Team Sky’s wheels and weigh them separately to determine if the wheels were enhanced.
LeMond said he believes the 800g weight difference “should have set off alarm bells.”
The UCI was not quoted in the story.
A story from French TV programme Stade 2 claimed that a senior UCI official frustrated French police manoeuvres against motors during the 2015 Tour de France, alleging that UCI technical manager Mark Barfield had alerted e-bike maker Typhoon about police plans to investigate suspected hidden motor use.
In October 2016, after Varjas claims he had attempted to convey how to catch cheaters to French officials at that year’s Tour, the UCI issued a statement strongly rejecting the claims.
“The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) condemns the accusations being made in some news reports concerning the UCI’s commitment to tackle technological fraud and the tests made at this year’s Tour de France,” read the UCI statement. “The UCI carried out extensive bike checks using various detection methods in close collaboration with race organiser, French authorities and French law enforcement.”
Kathy LeMond, who was with Varjas at the 2016 Tour, verified that Varjas had attempted to explain to French gendarmes at the Tour how hidden motors work, and how to catch cyclists using them.
“The gendarmes were not able to test the bikes themselves and were relying on the UCI to carry out the tests,” she said. “The UCI refused to test the bikes in the manner Stefano recommended to uncover motor usage. Stefano believes the manner in which the UCI carried out the tests is insufficient to detect motor usage.”
The 60 Minutes segment ended with Greg LeMond saying that not enough was being done by the UCI to combat hidden motors in pro cycling. “This is curable,” he said. “This is fixable. I won’t trust it until they figure out how to take the motor out. I won’t trust any victories of the Tour de France.”