Hidden motors are being used within the men’s professional peloton according to a Franco-Italian investigation which claims to have evidence of their use at races in Italy including last month’s Strade Bianche. It has also been claimed that hidden motors were used by top riders at the 2015 Tour de France.
The allegations come less than three months after a concealed motor was found by UCI testers at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships in Belgium – the first time such a discovery has been made.
Journalists from the French TV sports programme Stade 2 and the Italian newspaper La Corriere della Sera say that they identified seven motors being used by competitors at Strade Bianche and the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, both held last month.
They said that the use of the banned technology had been discovered through thermal imaging equipment that had been disguised to resemble a camera, but neither the newspaper in its report, nor the TV show broadcast this evening, named individual teams or riders.
The media outlets claimed they had found two different types of system being deployed – five of the bikes they believed to have motors concealed are said to have had them hidden in the seat post, while the other two apparently had them in the rear hub.
The image above wasn’t taken during a race, but was shown during the Stade 2 report to highlight the heat signature given off by a motor concealed in a seat post.
Cycling Hub TV has posted two videos to YouTube of the segment of the programme that focused on hidden motors.
Jean-Pierre Vedry, the former director of France’s national anti-doping agency, the AFLD, told Stade 2: “Last July we received very reliable information on the use of motors on the Tour with the names of top athletes. We alerted the UCI, but there was no reply, no checks.”
Besides outlining the motors work and how they can be concealed within bicycle frames, with an explanation provided by the Hungarian engineer Istvan Varjas whom, it is claimed, has clients including professional cyclists.
He also showed a motor he had designed that is just 5 centimetres in length – compared to the 22 centimetre length of the Austria-made Vivax Assist, as well as talking about how motors can now be hidden in carbon rims of rear wheels, too.
The programme also covered ground familiar to anyone who has followed the issue of hidden motors since 2010, when they were first rumoured to be used in the peloton.
Insider blogger Inner Ring seemed underwhelmed by the programme’s revelations, saying on Twitter: “Little new in the Stade 2 report on motors in bikes, cycling fans probably know all the issues and ideas already, eg it's possible to hide a motor which may be news for general Sunday TV audience but probably not for us. Thermal imaging didn't reveal much either.”
At the end of January, UCI officials using scanning technology discovered a motor concealed in the seat post of a bike prepared for Belgian Under-23 rider Femke Van den Driessche at the world championships in Belgium.
The technology uses a tablet computer in partnership with an app that is believed to detect magnetic waves created by a motor, and while the governing body points to the Van den Driessche case as proof it works, Stade 2 and the Corriere della Sera say it is not as reliable as the thermal imaging device they used.
Initially, she claimed the bike belonged to a family friend but subsequently decided not to contest the charge of technological fraud brought against her.
The UCI’s Disciplinary Commission has yet to render its decision in the case, but the governing body has said it is pressing for a severe sanction.
The onus would have been on Van den Driessche to prove her bike met UCI regulations, with “the presence within or on the margins of a cycling competition” of a non-compliant bike enough for an offence to be committed.
The 19-year-old, who has announced her retirement from cycling, and faces a penalty of a minimum ban of six months for the rider and a fine of between CHF20,000 and CHF200,000.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.