Hidden motors: Former pro replaces controversial staff member at UCI

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Seventeen months after it was reported that the UCI technical manager Mark Barfield had frustrated a French police operation aimed at investigating hidden motors, the Briton has been replaced in that role by a former pro rider.

The UCI announced on Friday that Jean-Christophe Péraud will take up the position. The 40 year old holds a University Technological Diploma in chemical engineering, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in process engineering, and a Diploma in energy and environmental engineering obtained at the National Institute of Applied Sciences (Institut National des Sciences Appliquées – INSA) in Lyon, France.

He was a successful mountain bike athlete from 1998 to 2009, then rode as a professional road rider from 2010 to 2016. He won the Critérium International in 2014 and 2015, and was second overall in the 2014 Tour de France.

“Recently retired from the peloton, I wanted to continue working for the sport I love,” he said in a UCI announcement. “The challenge I have been offered today fulfils my wish perfectly. I will invest all my energy, and all my knowledge of and expertise in both engineering and the sport of cycling into this role.

“The UCI already has an effective policy concerning equipment and the fight against technological fraud, but I am convinced that this can still be improved. That is what I will now be working on.”

In June 2016 Barfield came under scrutiny when French TV programme Stade 2 said that he may have frustrated a police manoeuvre at last year’s Tour de France. The police were investigating possible motor use at the race and had planned to detail and question the so-called inventor of the devices, Stefano Varjas.

Journalist Thierry Vildary and the others involved in the programme acquired emails which showed that Barfield alerted e-bike maker Typhoon about those plans. Typhoon was Varjas’ employer at the time.

One of the emails, sent at 12.37 CEST on July 11 of last year, was an exchange between Barfield and Gibbings.

“Hi,” the message reads. “Do you have a phone number I can all [sic] you on straight away, I’m sitting with French police who believe an engineer ‘Hungarian’ is visiting TDF today to sell a bike and visit teams, could this be your guy???”

The message concludes by asking Gibbings to call him on a number which Stade partially obscured.

Gibbings sent a message the following day to Hungarian engineer Varjas.

That email read as follows:

“I was doing family stuff yesterday when this mail came in from a guy in the UCI so I didn’t see it until late in the evening. The French police have opened a file on ‘motor doping’ and will prosecute under ‘anti cheating’ laws. I have given no information on Stefano or any of the customers from the past only saying that Typhoon were happy to help in anyway possible to try and detect a similar system in racing bikes.

“My understanding is that I will be contacted again in the future. Nobody has asked me for the names of Typhoon’s engineers yet.

“Bill doesn’t know about this at the moment, but we are due to meet at some point today when I’ll have to tell him.

“I don’t need to tell you guys this is a very big and serious mess.

“As I get anymore information I will pass along to you.”

Varjas quickly left the race, preventing police plans to interview him.

Stefano Varjas demonstrates a wheel he claims works as an electromagnetic motor. Image by 60 Minutes.

When challenged by Vildary at the 2016 Critérium du Dauphiné, Barfield confirmed the email was sent by him. It came weeks after he had hosted a UCI presentation at its headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, telling members of the press that the UCI’s iPad-based screening process would effectively eliminate the possibility of motor use in the sport. Typhoon supplied the bikes used in a demonstration of the iPads in use.

Asked by Vildary why he had passed on information of a confidential police investigation to others, Barfield said simply that it was to give information. When it was pointed out to him that Typhoon was not part of the UCI, he said the company was a partner and that giving the information was part of helping the police.

However, according to Stade 2, the police disputed this version of events and said that Barfield did not contact them again.

Put in an embarrassing situation, the UCI said it would look into the situation. However a statement released appeared to remove blame from Barfield. “The UCI has full confidence in its staff employed in this area,” it said. “It will investigate whether emails sent in 2015 to an external consultant were passed on to a third party and used in a way that no-one intended.”

Asked about the matter at that year’s Tour de France, the-then UCI president Brian Cookson had nothing to say about Barfield. “I don’t want to comment on any individual member of UCI staff,” he told CyclingTips. “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.”

The UCI’s testing for motors came under focus separately when it was 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.”

New UCI president David Lappartient said prior to the election that the fight against hidden motors would be a major focus of his campaign. He said that adding x-ray scans and thermal imaging to the current iPad tests was something he wanted to do.

Since beating Cookson for the position, he has said that he is studying the subject and indicated that he will detail in the coming weeks what new measures will be introduced.

Jean-Christophe Peraud was second in the 2014 Tour de France.

Appointing Péraud to the position of technical manager is the first step in that process. Aside from the fight against technological fraud, he will also be in charge of the UCI’s management of approval procedures for equipment and clothing used in competition plus the management of projects concerning the use of new technologies in cycling events.

Lappartient said that he believed Péraud is the right person for the position.

“Thanks to his solid academic background, his professional career and his experience as a top athlete, he is the ideal person to work, in close collaboration with the UCI Ad hoc Commission, on the modernisation of the current regulations and procedures covering equipment, in particular those concerning the fight against technological fraud.

“This problematic issue is one of my highest priorities. The credibility of sports results hangs on it. A detailed plan of action in this specific area will be revealed next January.”

At that point it will be more clear what Lappartient, and Péraud, will do to prevent cheating in this area.

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