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UCI presidential candidate David Lappartient has told CyclingTips that if elected in September, he intends to make several big changes to the fight against technological fraud, or the use of hidden motors in cycling.
Amongst the changes he advocates are the use of x-ray technology, something which was previously called for by three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond.
In February 2016 the American said that he believed that the UCI’s still-current approach of using iPads measuring magnetic resistance were not enough to safeguard against possible use of such motors
“They need to have thermal imaging guns [to pick up the heat motors generate],” he told CyclingTips then. “That will help. They also need to use an x-ray scanner.
“All you have to do is pass every bike through it. It will detect everything – it will find things hidden in frames, rims, everywhere. That scanning should be carried out on all the Grand Tours and in other major events.”
Speaking to CyclingTips and one other journalist on the final weekend of the Tour, Lappartient said he also favoured this approach.
“I consider that we must use all the technological possibilities,” he said. “Not only the tablets, but the x-ray, and to have a thermal camera on everything. On everything. Just to analyse some elements on the bike and sometimes to check directly the bike.”
Asked if he believed Tour de France organiser ASO would support such a move, he anticipated support.
“I think so. I think so. When I spoke to Christian Prudhomme, I know his philosophy about [this],” he said. “He wants our sport to be clean. He wants the Tour de France to be clean. He said the Tour de France is a ‘colosse aux pieds d’argile. [a giant with feet of clay]’
“If some issues like this happen, the public will maybe go away, the sponsors will go away. And that could be something very [bad]…not only for the Tour de France, but for cycling. It would be a disaster…it would take you 20 years to come back at the top.
“So that is why I think that on these kind of issues, the Tour de France, ASO and all the organisers must all work together.”
Although the UCI was set to use its own thermal imaging cameras at this year’s race, alongside the French Centre of Research of the Department of Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA), it previously did not agree with LeMond’s call for x-ray screening.
Lappartient’s declaration of support for this method would thus represent a stepping-up of the battle against technological fraud. However it is not the only change he is calling for.
“We asked to take off the wheel; they told us it was too difficult”
When allegations of technological fraud first surfaced in 2010, the UCI instigated checks for such devices. These originally comprised removing each bike’s seatpost and inserting a hidden camera to look for the presence of hidden motors.
The number of those tests faded over time but, following claims that motors were still in use, the examinations were ramped up once more.
In January 2016 the UCI introduced a faster, non-invasive way of testing. These used iPads with an app measuring magnetic resistance. Upon their first use a rider was snared at the world cyclo cross championships. The spare bike of the young Belgian Femke Van den Driessche was found to contain a motor.
She was subsequently handed a six-year ban plus a fine.
Since then, there have been no further confirmed cases of technological fraud. However, despite a considerable increase in the number of tests done in recent years, there have been serious claims made against the UCI in this area.
In June 2016 the French TV programme Stade 2 reported that the UCI’s technical manager Mark Barfield frustrated a police manoeuvre at the 2015 Tour de France. He is the person in charge of the testing for hidden motors, and the police informed him that they understood that Varjas was at the Tour, and that they planned to question him.
Barfield subsequently sent a message to Varjas’-then employer Harry Gibbings, who in turn told Varjas. The latter quickly left the country and thus avoided questioning.
Although the UCI responded by saying it would look into the matter, it never released any findings. Current UCI president Brian Cookson – who is aiming to beat Lappartient in September’s election – told CyclingTips on more that one occasion that he had had faith in all the UCI’s staff.
Another an allegation against UCI testers was that they refused a request by the French police to weigh wheels rather than complete bikes. A senior source with links to the police confirmed to CyclingTips in June 2016 that this was indeed the case.
“We know the normal weight of a bike. With the motor of the Hungarian engineer, the weight of the back wheel is heavier,” the source stated then.
“We asked the UCI to verify, to check. They told us that it is too difficult to take off the wheel. That was very funny, because it only takes five seconds to take off the wheel. That is all.”
The source added that while the UCI weighs bikes in order to ensure that they comply with the 6.8 kilo limit, that weighing complete bikes is not an indication of the presence or absence of a motor.
“The weight of the bicycle can be normal because the other parts are lighter. It is why we asked to take off the wheel, and to weigh only the wheel. But they told us it was too difficult.”
In December of last year the self-described inventor of the hidden motor Istvan ‘Stefano’ Varjas claimed that the UCI’s tablet tests don’t safeguard against all types of hidden motors. He told French newspaper Le Monde that there are wheels available containing a motor hidden in the hub. These cost 50,000 euro but, for a sum four times greater than this, he said more sophisticated hub motors are available.
The UCI rejected the claim that their tablets won’t work with such wheels.
Asked by CyclingTips about the claims against Barfield plus those about non-cooperation with French authorities, Lappartient said he was concerned.
“I saw this report on the French TV. I was a bit surprised that we [the UCI] warned the guy,” he answered. “I said, ‘look, it is very strange.’ I know also the Gendarmerie in France asked to make some controls. They asked, ‘you have to take the wheel, you have to test this.’ The UCI said, ‘no, we just have to take the frame.’
“Sorry, but when the Gendarmerie asks some specific information, why do we refuse to use this information? We should accept directions from the police. We are the governing body of sport. The UCI is the referee in cycling. But we cannot have the same information as the Gendarmerie.
“They can listen to your phone, they can look at your email and everything, so they can have some strong information. I think the objective to fight against doping, technological fraud and everything is something that we must work together. We need the public authorities from all the countries on this.
“So if we have some information coming from the police from whatever the country, we need to work with them. That is why I was surprised about this. It was strange for me to see that.”
A need for independent monitoring?
If elected, Lappartient has said that he would subject the UCI’s tablet-detection method to outside verification to prove that the method does indeed work as claimed.
He points out the damage it would do to the governing body’s image if a bike was cleared by the UCI examinations, but then a motor was subsequently detected via an alternative method of testing or by outside checks.
However, when questioned about the suitability of the UCI to be doing the checks at all, he accepts that the current situation is not ideal.
In the area of anti-doping, the UCI has long accepted that there is a conflict of interest between the promotion and policing of the sport. Because a major function of the UCI is to work towards the success and the expansion of the sport, the role of uncovering doping is one which could clash with that.
As a result the UCI set up the Cycling Anti Doping Foundation, saying that this separate body would be the one to run anti-doping.
One cornerstone of Cookson’s campaign was that the CADF’s independence was of crucial importance. Because of this, he pledged to further increase its independence.
However, although technological fraud and doping are essentially just different methods of cheating, he has told CyclingTips that he doesn’t see a need to hand over this area of scrutiny to an outside body.
Lappartient says he would take a different approach. Asked if such a change is needed, the Frenchman acknowledged the conflict of interest and the need to have an independent group run such tests.
“I think so. I think so,” he said. “We must [wait to] see if it would be under the umbrella of the CADF or not, but I think that could be the case.
“This must be completely outside of the UCI.”