The UCI has defended itself against serious questions asked of its testing for hidden motors, saying that it stands by the techniques used by its staff.
On Sunday evening, France TV’s Stade 2 programme aired a report in which they obtained two of the UCI’s tablets used for testing, claiming that the method generates misleading false positives when working with the most basic type of motors, and that it is also possible to miss detection of such devices.
More seriously, the engineers consulted by the programme said that the devices struggled to detect motors hidden in the hubs of modified wheels, becoming confused with the ferromagnetic signals given off by the freewheel, and were completely ineffective at red-flagging an electromagnetic system built into wheel rims.
The UCI declined to be interviewed by Stade 2, but issued a response on Monday insisting that the current system is reliable.
“When UCI President Brian Cookson was elected in September 2013, there were no rules targeting technological fraud, no proper sanctions, no significant resources dedicated to the area, and no system of control and inspection,” the UCI statement began.
“These have been put in place in the past four years, in particular: Rules and sanctions were introduced and can be found in article 1.3.003 and 1.3.010 of the UCI Regulations.
“Significant staffing resource and systematic controls and checks have been introduced (over 40,000 in the past two years). These include, for example, over 4,000 controls undertaken during the 2017 Tour de France and 1,000 at the UCI Grand Fondo World Championships end of August.”
The UCI said that it had conducted this work “with transparency and in partnership with its stakeholders.”
It added that in May of last year 20 representatives from global media were at the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, to attend a presentation and discussion of its work to fight such cheating.
At that time, the now-disputed iPad tests were displayed.
In Stade 2’s examination of these tablet systems, the engineers analysed one bike and two wheels brought to it by the presumed inventor of hidden motors, Stefano Varjas. The bike contained an early form of electrical motors, hidden in the downtube.
The engineers from the Fraunhofer institute at Sarrebruck University tried to detect the motor using the UCI’s system, and struggled to do so. This was due in part to false positives given off by the machine. Varjas pointed out the exact location of the motor and, upon closer scrutiny, the tablet did display a signal.
However he claimed that an extra layer of carbon within the frame would be sufficient to mask the device.
Furthermore, detecting the motor hidden in one of the wheels proved problematic, once again due to false positives such as those given off by the freewheel. The final wheel, which contained components from an electro-magnetic system, was essentially invisible to the detector.
Despite this, the UCI claimed that its magnetic resistance scanning, “has proved to be highly effective both in tests and in actual use. It has also been independently verified by Microbac, a US-based industrial testing laboratory, who found that ‘the UCI Scanner detected the hidden motor in 100% of the scans executed by trained staff.’”
As the Fraunhofer institute engineers pointed out, those test results also revealed issues.
“You must be able to differentiate between the numerous false alarms and the real ones,” stated the programme. “From their test results, only one out of three alarms is a real one. So two-thirds of the alarms are false readings, just as our own test had shown.
“But especially, the UCI had asked this laboratory to test only one type of motor, the classic and old method of the motor hidden in a seat post. Nothing on motors inside sprockets nor on magnetic wheels like Stefano Varjas’ one. Unlike us, the UCI did not test its tablet against the latest technologies available to cheaters.”
The UCI did not specifically respond to this point in its statement. It questioned the techniques used by the engineers.
“Like any testing equipment, our scanners must be used correctly to be effective. We provide extensive training to our operators on how to use the equipment and how to interpret the results,” the UCI said. “It is clear that the people using our device in Sunday’s Stade 2 report had had no training. We have, immediately following the report, offered to meet with them to demonstrate how to use our scanners effectively.
“Our training always emphasises that the scanner is for initial controls and that bikes must be dismantled should any suspicion of the presence of a motor or any other hidden device be indicated.”
However, in the past the UCI has been accused of refusing French police requests to carry out alternative methods of detection, such as weighing wheels separately to whole 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 [Varjas], 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.”
Lappartient: ‘We must use all the technological possibilities’
Given the shortcomings of the iPad detection system, there have been calls for far tougher examinations to be put in place.
Former French Cycling Federation president David Lappartient, who is running against current UCI president Brian Cookson in this month’s UCI elections, told CyclingTips recently that, if elected, he will ramp up the fight against mechanical doping.
“I consider that we must use all the technological possibilities,” he said then. “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.”
He repeated this to Stade 2 after being shown the report, noting that the tablets were clearly not enough. “This tablet is necessary, but not sufficient,” he said
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 told CyclingTips. “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.”
In its statement on Monday, the UCI argued that the tablets must remain the primary method used.
“The UCI has of course analysed many alternative forms of detection, and indeed continues to make use of alternative methods in combination with magnetic resistance scanners to ensure a varied testing protocol. However, all alternative forms are not suitable to be the main or exclusive form of detection.”
UCI officials doing secondary scan on team car spares as they approach starting queue. Also scanning racer bikes again. pic.twitter.com/noxZxTQfmJ
— Ray Maker (@dcrainmakerblog) July 1, 2017
“Thermal imaging has been used on a number of occasions and can be useful, but is limited as it would only detect a motor when in use, or shortly after use when a motor is warm. We also occasionally use X-ray, but this is relatively slow, requires a great deal of space to ensure public safety, and is subject to widely varying legislation from country to country.”
It appealed to anyone with information to send it to the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
However, with the UCI presidential elections just weeks away, the Stade 2 programme will likely have damaged the UCI’s credibility in this area, not least because the governing body refused to be interviewed. Rumours of motorized wheels have existed for some time and the claim that electromagnetic adaptations are not detectable is very serious indeed. The UCI’s statement on Monday did little to address this issue.
Watch the programme here: If subtitles don’t appear, click ‘CC’ at the bottom of the screen.