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Three-time yellow jersey winner appears on US TV documentary on Sunday; Hungarian who pioneered the technology says he sold it to anonymous buyer for $2 million

Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond says he does not trust recent results in cycling’s biggest race because he believes riders are cheating by using concealed motors. A Hungarian engineer behind the technology claims that he sold exclusive ten-year rights to his invention for almost $2 million in 1998 – but he has not named the buyer.

Both men were speaking as part of a CBS 60 Minutes documentary that will be screened on primetime television in the United States on Sunday evening.

The show airs on the same weekend as the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Luxembourg and it was at last year’s event in Zolder, Belgium, where a hidden motor was discovered in competition for the first time.

It was found on a bike prepared for Belgian Under-23 rider Femke Van Den Driessche, who has since been banned for six years and fined 20,000 Swiss Francs for what the UCI classifies as “technological fraud.”

Since then, the UCI has stepped up efforts to detect concealed motors, carrying out thousands of tests at races last year using a tablet-based application it has developed that seeks to detect electromagnetic waves.

At the Tour de France last summer,  x-ray machines and thermal imaging equipment on loan from the French military were also used to try and detect hidden motors.

LeMond, now aged 55 and winner of the Tour de France in 1986, 1989 and 1990, strongly suspects that concealed motors are still in use in the peloton, however. He told the programme: “This is curable. This is fixable.  I don’t trust it until they figure out how to take the motor out. 

“I won’t trust any victories of the Tour de France,” he added.

Budapest-based engineer Istvan Varjas is likewise convinced that motors concealed within frames similar to those he developed, as well as ones hidden within rear wheels, are being used at the top level of the sport.

He told 60 Minutes that with a friend acting as intermediary, a friend put him in touch with an anonymous prospective purchaser who offered him close to $2 million for exclusive, 10-year rights to the technology.

Varjas, who has previously appeared on French television on the subject of mechanical doping, accepted the money and agreed he would not talk about hidden motors nor engage in developing them until the period of exclusivity had expired.

He sought to distance himself from those who might use the technology to gain an unfair advantage in a race, telling 60 Minutes: “If a grandfather came and buy a bike and after it’s go to his grandson who is racing, it’s not my problem.”

But pressed whether he would supply a concealed motor to someone who revealed he would use it to try and win races, he answered: “If the money is big, why not?”

60 Minutes also spoke to a former testing director of France’s national anti-doping agency, the AFLD, Jean-Pierre Verdy, who revealed that he believes hidden motors are an issue in the professional ranks.

He said: “It’s been the last three to four years when I was told about the use of the motors.

“There’s a problem. By 2015, everyone was complaining and I said, ‘something’s got to be done.’”

Since the seven successive victories between 1999 and 2005 that Lance Armstrong was stripped of five years ago, eight men have won the race, and it’s those victories, presumably, that LeMond is questioning.

Oscar Pereiro and Andy Schleck were awarded the 2006 and 2010 wins respectively after Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador were convicted of doping.

Contador himself won in 2007 and 2009, with Carlos Sastre taking the victory in the intervening year.

The 2011 win went to Cadel Evans, before Team Sky began their domination of the race, with victories for Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in three of the past four seasons.

In 2014, the yellow jersey was won by Vincenzo Nibali, who joined Contador as the only current riders to have won all three Grand Tours.

However, it was not at the Tour de France but during the Spring Classics in 2010 that the issue of whether professional cyclists might be gaining illegal mechanical assistance first hit the headlines.

That year at the Tour of Flanders, Fabian Cancellara rode away with ease from rival and home favourite Tom Boonen on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, and a week later he also won Paris-Roubaix.

Cancellara has always denied cheating, although shortly afterwards ex-professional cyclist turned television commentator Davide Cassani, now coach to the Italian national team, demonstrated how he believed hidden motors could give riders a race-winning edge.

12 months on from the shock discovery of what remains the only concealed motor to have been found in competition, for many there is a nagging question that remains unanswered; if an Under-23 rider in the notoriously under-funded women’s side of the sport was using one, are we really expected to believe that no male elite rider has done so, given the huge financial stakes involved?

> Find all our coverage of mechanical doping here

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

34 comments

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jerome [24 posts] 9 months ago
6 likes

So many people eager to show their face on TV, so little evidence.

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Leviathan [2840 posts] 9 months ago
2 likes

Urrghh, just what is the point anymore? I am starting to understand those who don't mind drug taking.

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Gourmet Shot [172 posts] 9 months ago
9 likes

so where would one get a concealed motor of this standard.....asking for a friend

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jasecd [484 posts] 9 months ago
4 likes

Disappointed to hear LeMond speaking out like this - he's always seemed more balanced and less prone to hysteria than many.

So we know that the technology exists but so far they've found one hidden motor in a CX race. Does he honestly think that recent Tour winners have been using them? 

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waldner71 [56 posts] 9 months ago
3 likes

Why would Lemond be saying this....without suspicion?  It beggars belief to imagine recent winners doing this. In the words of Victor Meldrew: "I Don't beliieeeve it!!"

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dottigirl [808 posts] 9 months ago
3 likes

It beggars belief that professional teams would risk everything for this.

With PEDs, there may always be some doubt. 

If a motor is found in a bike with a particular rider's name on, in the vicinity of the restricted area, there can be no defence. 

It may have been done in the past, before all the headlines. Now there is awareness and screening, would any rider, mechanic, etc risk EVERYTHING for such an advantage? 

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Mungecrundle [866 posts] 9 months ago
4 likes

There is no plausible deniability if caught using one. At the top level of the sport I do not think it will be an issue. However, further down the pecking order I wouldn't be surprised that certain sad sacks just couldn't resist a bit of extra assistance in an amateur sportive or triathlon event.

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DavidC [159 posts] 9 months ago
2 likes

What is rarely mentioned in these articles, but stands out in my mind, is that any motor which has been tested and reported on has been very noisy, and so probably noticeable in use. Have there been any tests or reports of quiet motors?

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steviemarco [236 posts] 9 months ago
1 like

The 'hidden motor' in the heat map pic could be a Di2 battery, it's possible? 

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1961BikiE [390 posts] 9 months ago
3 likes

Poor old Greg. Always ready to jump on a conspiracy. Not that he was wrong about Lance but just seems happy to jump on anything that will keep him in the public eye. Demostrating the technology exists isn't the same as having proof of misuse in the pro peloton.

Sad.

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Peowpeowpeowlasers [536 posts] 9 months ago
4 likes
jasecd wrote:

Disappointed to hear LeMond speaking out like this - he's always seemed more balanced and less prone to hysteria than many.

So we know that the technology exists but so far they've found one hidden motor in a CX race. Does he honestly think that recent Tour winners have been using them? 

 

And yet Lemond was one of the most vocal against renowned cheats like Lance Armstrong, when every man and his dog was slagging him off for doing so.  And to the detriment of his own bicycle company.

The man was a superb athlete, one of the best cyclists of all time.  I would tend to take his words seriously.

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jasecd [484 posts] 9 months ago
2 likes
Peowpeowpeowlasers wrote:
jasecd wrote:

Disappointed to hear LeMond speaking out like this - he's always seemed more balanced and less prone to hysteria than many.

So we know that the technology exists but so far they've found one hidden motor in a CX race. Does he honestly think that recent Tour winners have been using them? 

 

And yet Lemond was one of the most vocal against renowned cheats like Lance Armstrong, when every man and his dog was slagging him off for doing so.  And to the detriment of his own bicycle company.

The man was a superb athlete, one of the best cyclists of all time.  I would tend to take his words seriously.

I fully agree with you - he was one of the best riders ever and I do take his words seriously, which is why I'm disappointed to hear him making what feels like a bit of an implausible statement.

I hope he's wrong and I don't look back in twenty years and realise how naive I was. If that's the case then my only interest in cycling will be riding my bike and not following the sport.

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MamilMan [59 posts] 9 months ago
3 likes

In the 2016 Tour De France there was a day (stage 14) when Jeremy Roy (128) of FDJ was part of a break. He was filmed towards the end of his stint on this break with another rider. There was an electrical wire sticking out of his rear water bottle (which was a different bottle from the front one). It was visible for only a few seconds on the footage.

 

You could say that this could have been to power one of many devices on the bike but his groupset was powered from another visible battery on the down tube. A battery the size of a bidon would power his groupset for an entire season.

 

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Nick T [1095 posts] 9 months ago
1 like
dottigirl wrote:

Now there is awareness and screening, would any rider, mechanic, etc risk EVERYTHING for such an advantage? 

 

yes. 

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SC1990 [8 posts] 9 months ago
4 likes
MamilMan wrote:

In the 2016 Tour De France there was a day (stage 14) when Jeremy Roy (128) of FDJ was part of a break. He was filmed towards the end of his stint on this break with another rider. There was an electrical wire sticking out of his rear water bottle (which was a different bottle from the front one). It was visible for only a few seconds on the footage.

 

You could say that this could have been to power one of many devices on the bike but his groupset was powered from another visible battery on the down tube. A battery the size of a bidon would power his groupset for an entire season.

 

 

There are also plenty of images from that stage where Roy has a completely different bidon in his rear cage, as well as plenty of video. He goes back to the team car for a chat and returns to the group with 107.1km to go. 

Presumably the dropping back was so he could have this "battery bidon" plugged in in your view?  Also worth mentioning that he did have  GoPro on his bike, and that the "wire" looks more like, er, a bottle cage.

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davel [1873 posts] 9 months ago
1 like
SC1990 wrote:

... the "wire" looks more like, er, a bottle cage.

Exactly what I thought when I saw that pic: if that's a wire, what's holding his bottle?

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MamilMan [59 posts] 9 months ago
1 like

I wasn't talking about the front what might be a wire but is the cage. The wires I refer to exit the top, runs down the left side of the bottle between the frame and the bottle and then doubles underneath.

 

Found some pictures of the TdF GoPro camera's... no external batteries visible in their set up. There's some pics of the AbuDabai set up for live race transmission but that is really obvious, not like this and something the organisors were only too happy to show off.

That bottle cage has 3 cable ties holding it on suggesting it needs a bit of bracing.

Not seen anything like this anywhere that didn't have an explanation for it and yet for this there is nothing.

 

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Griff500 [209 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
Gourmet Shot wrote:

so where would one get a concealed motor of this standard.....asking for a friend

A friend of mine did a Google search and came up with the Vivax Assist (www.vivax-assist.com) which is claimed to be the lightest of its kind at 1.8kg, 200W and with a 6Ah battery. 3k euros, which I guess these days is £3k. The site actually brags "the powerful motor is hidden in the seat tube".

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efail [106 posts] 9 months ago
4 likes
MamilMan wrote:

I wasn't talking about the front what might be a wire but is the cage. The wires I refer to exit the top, runs down the left side of the bottle between the frame and the bottle and then doubles underneath.

 

Found some pictures of the TdF GoPro camera's... no external batteries visible in their set up. There's some pics of the AbuDabai set up for live race transmission but that is really obvious, not like this and something the organisors were only too happy to show off.

That bottle cage has 3 cable ties holding it on suggesting it needs a bit of bracing.

Not seen anything like this anywhere that didn't have an explanation for it and yet for this there is nothing.

 

You go to all that trouble to have a secret motor, then leave the cables exposed for all to see.....?

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Nick T [1095 posts] 9 months ago
2 likes
MamilMan wrote:

That bottle cage has 3 cable ties holding it on suggesting it needs a bit of bracing.

 

whats in these bidon batteries then, uranium?

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longassballs [53 posts] 9 months ago
1 like

Yeah I think exposed wires is a canard. I certainly think it's possible motors have been used, even likely, but how widely - who knows?

Few thoughts.. Assuming genuine, who did this Hungarian dude sell his motor to for $2m? Individual rider? Team? Bike manufacturer? Other? Only a few individual riders would have been able to afford that. Would have had to involve others, including engineers? Did they share it with other riders? Hard to keep secret for twenty years. What sort of battery would have ran the motor in 1998? If this motor is so good why have electric bikes taken so long to come out? Everyone in the peleton would have eventually found out, so why was everyone doping?

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beezus fufoon [945 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
Griff500 wrote:
Gourmet Shot wrote:

so where would one get a concealed motor of this standard.....asking for a friend

A friend of mine did a Google search and came up with the Vivax Assist (www.vivax-assist.com) which is claimed to be the lightest of its kind at 1.8kg, 200W and with a 6Ah battery. 3k euros, which I guess these days is £3k. The site actually brags "the powerful motor is hidden in the seat tube".

wow! - also offers the "invisible performance package" complete with bidon battery and hidden bluetooth operating button hidden in the handlebars!

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SingleSpeed [370 posts] 9 months ago
1 like

"The man was a superb athlete, one of the best cyclists of all time.  I would tend to take his words seriously."

 

Nah he was just bitter that whatever he was on couldn't make him better than arguably the best cyclist of all time.

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fenix [801 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
MamilMan wrote:

In the 2016 Tour De France there was a day (stage 14) when Jeremy Roy (128) of FDJ was part of a break. He was filmed towards the end of his stint on this break with another rider. There was an electrical wire sticking out of his rear water bottle (which was a different bottle from the front one). It was visible for only a few seconds on the footage.

 

You could say that this could have been to power one of many devices on the bike but his groupset was powered from another visible battery on the down tube. A battery the size of a bidon would power his groupset for an entire season.

 

How ridiculous would it be to plug in a battery bottle that doesnt look like a water bottle mid race? It must be for the go pros.

I love Lemond but there's no way that a pro tour team is using motors. How many people would need to be in on the conspiracy?

Yes a small outfit like the cross girl could try it but not a big team. Just isn't going to happen. You can bet your bottom dollar that some nobby MAMILS have used the tech to claim their Golds in a sportive but it would never work on the pro tour. Never.

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SingleSpeed [370 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

"You can bet your bottom dollar that some nobby MAMILS have used the tech to claim their Golds in a sportive but it would never work on the pro tour. Never."

 

You say that but then again good old Sir Brad has been popping Hayfever and Asthma tablets like no tomorrow and that seems to have done him proud.

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Danger Dicko [282 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
MamilMan wrote:

I wasn't talking about the front what might be a wire but is the cage. The wires I refer to exit the top, runs down the left side of the bottle between the frame and the bottle and then doubles underneath.

 

Found some pictures of the TdF GoPro camera's... no external batteries visible in their set up. There's some pics of the AbuDabai set up for live race transmission but that is really obvious, not like this and something the organisors were only too happy to show off.

That bottle cage has 3 cable ties holding it on suggesting it needs a bit of bracing.

Not seen anything like this anywhere that didn't have an explanation for it and yet for this there is nothing.

 

I think you are desperate to see something that's just not there.

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beezus fufoon [945 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

if you wanted to use that motor, it would be too obvious to loop the wire through the seat post - better to widen the bolt hole for the bottle cage, which would then leave you with the issue of securing the bottle cage itself - maybe using 3 zip ties? - that's how I'd do it!

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atlaz [255 posts] 9 months ago
1 like

Here's another photo:

 

//media.gettyimages.com/photos/cycling-103th-tour-de-france-2016-stage-14-jeremy-roy-martin-elmiger-picture-id576562634?s=594x594)

Different bottle. So are we suggesting, as above, that he had it wired up at the team car? There are high res images aplenty so it should be possible to find ONE with a clear picture of the wireing if there is any

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atlaz [255 posts] 9 months ago
1 like

OH, and this one shows the black bidon but it looks like a bidon. Neutral service maybe? Food? 

 

//media.gettyimages.com/photos/cycling-103th-tour-de-france-2016-stage-14-jeremy-roy-alex-howes-picture-id576583586?s=594x594)

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alansmurphy [1039 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

Python:

 

"As I've said previously, when you can retrieve lost energy through wobble motion and the vibrations through the frame (both known methods for generating electricty) and use carbon fibre as a conduit for such energy and connect to micro motors in the rear hub that are the size and shape of normal 'needle' bearings it is entirely possible and would be virtually impossible to find.

Sure, the really small micro motors won't put much out but then if they're indetectable with the olde worlde tech they are currently using to check and not actually understand that micro motors exist (because they are looking for a relatively large heat source and size of kit then a couple of extra watts that are basically retrieved for free for the entire length of a race is well worth the risk"

 

I don't see why we wouldn't allow this, it's the riders that are creating the energy, why not put it back through the bike? Easier to amend the rules for something like this than run round trying to detect it...

 

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