Mechanical doping: Ban Femke Van den Driessche's entourage, urges Cookson

UCI president says Belgian under-23 rider wasn't acting alone in first hidden motor case...

UCI president Brian Cookson believes that Femke Van den Driessche, banned last month for six years in cycling’s first mechanical doping case, did not cheat unaided and has called for charges to be laid against members of her entourage.

The 19-year-old Belgian rider was also fined CHF20,000 after a bike prepared for her at the Cyclo-cross World Championships in January, where she competed in the under-23 event, was found by UCI commissaries to contain an illegal motor.

The Wilier bike – a spare, located in the pits – was found to have a Vivax Assist motor in its seat tube, activated via Bluetooth from a button on the handlebars.

Speaking to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Cookson said: “I don’t think this is all over for her entourage. Let me put it like this; I cannot imagine this young lady did this on her own.”

The head of the governing body isn’t the first person to have raised suspicions that Van den Driessche was not acting alone.

In the days after the discovery of the concealed motor, Dimension Data rider Matt Brammeier said he had been concerned about the behaviour of her support crew at last October’s Koppenbergcross race, where he was helping his partner, Britain’s Nikki Harris.

The former Irish champion told Shane Stokes of Cycling Tips: “I was stood in the pit next to Femke’s entourage. I don’t quite know what it was, but something seemed a bit weird there.

“The whole team had walkie-talkie radios, ear pieces and seemed pretty anxious and, overall, just a bit odd. I’d never seen that before and it kind of stuck in my head.”

Video of that race showed Van den Driessche easily pulling away from a world class field in the climb of the Koppenberg, but being brought back on the descents and the flatter sections of the course.

Van den Driessche’s suspension is effective from fully three weeks before that event – 11 October 2015, when she competed at the Bpost Bank Trophy in Ronse, Belgium, suggesting that the UCI’s disciplinary commission was satisfied she was riding that event with illegal assistance.

At the world championships, her Wilier bike – a spare, located in the pits – was found to have a Vivax Assist motor in its seat tube, activated via Bluetooth from a button on the handlebars.

The rider chose not to be present at the disciplinary hearing in Aigle, Switzerland, that led to her suspension and her lawyer, Kristof De Saedeleer, says he is still awaiting the Reasoned Decision in the case.

He added: "I have no knowledge of any penalties for her entourage. Who would be charged? Her father was called in front of the disciplinary commission, but only as a witness, not a defendant. Only Femke was liable as defendant.

“If sanctions will follow for other people, that can only be done through new disciplinary procedures."

Cookson, however, is adamant that others could be brought to account. "If it turns out that other people were involved in the fraud, there could be consequences for them,” he said. “If necessary, refer them to the Belgian federation," he added.

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.

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