The UCI has launched an investigation after a French TV show claimed that during last year’s Tour de France, its technical director tipped off the head of a company that makes power-assisted road bikes that French police were at the race investigating hidden motors.
The allegations were made by the French TV programme Stade 2, which says Mark Barfield, technical manager at the governing body, emailed Harry Gibbings, the CEOof Monaco-based Typhoon Bikes, asking whether a “Hungarian” mentioned by police officers was one of its employees. Barfield later confirmed he had sent the email.
Stade 2’s report includes a copy of the email, sent from Barfield’s UCI address on Sunday 11 July a little more than 20 minutes before Stage 8 of the race from Rennes to Mur de Bretagne started. The email read:
Hi. 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 “Hungarian” French police were so keen to speak to was almost certainly Stefano Varjas, an engineer who is a pioneer in the field of concealed motors in bikes, and who was featured in an earlier Stade 2 report on them in April.
Varjas had entered into an employment agreement with Typhoon Bikes in January last year as vice president, product development,
He was among the recipients of an email that Gibbings sent the day after he had been alerted to the police interest in hidden motors, which forwarded the email from Barfield along with the following text:
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.
The ‘Stefano’ mentioned is presumably Varjas, while ‘Bill’ is likely to refer to William Elliott, the company’s chairman, who signed the contract with the Hungarian on Typhoon’s behalf.
In April Stade 2 claimed the UCI’s detection methods, based on finding electromagnetic waves, were less effective than thermal imaging in finding hidden motors.
In that programme, Varjas showed a new-generation motor much smaller than the one found in Femke van Den Driessche’s bike at the Cyclo-cross world championships in January, so far the only one discovered by the UCI.
Since then, the governing body has scanned thousands of bikes for hidden motors at a variety of men’s and women’s races across different disciplines, and only last month showed off the technology to journalists at the World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland.
The presentation was given by Barfield, while the bikes on show were from Typhoon, with Gibbings on hand to explain how the motors work.
In a statement issued this morning, the UCI said it had consulted a wide range of people on the issue of what its regulations refer to as “technological fraud.” It said:
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has consulted experts from a wide variety of backgrounds – including university academics, mechanical, electronic and software engineers, and bike suppliers – in the process of developing an effective method of detecting technological fraud.
The person interviewed in the Stade 2 report was among those consulted by the UCI in order to fully understand the technologies available and hence how to detect cases of technological fraud.
The UCI has full confidence in its staff employed in this area. 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.
At the Criterium du Dauphine last week, Barfield confirmed to Stade 2 reporter Thierry Vildary that the email from him to Gibbings was genuine, and that he had sent it with the aim of helping police, and that information had been supplied in return – although the Gendarmerie denied to the programme that it had ever received any.
Meanwhile, Gibbings confirmed that he had received the email from Barfield, but added that Varjas was not working for Typhoon at least year’s Tour de France and in fact had told him he would not be going to the race at all.
In February, for an article published on sister site eBikeTips Gibbings told road.cc technical editor David Arthur that he was against the company's technology being used to cheat in races.
Speaking in the days after the Ven Den Driessche scandal broke, he said that he'd like to have said he was surprised at the news "but sadly that’s not the case. For this reason Typhoon have been working closely with the UCI for some time in trying to help them develop a detection system to find hidden motors in competition bikes. I’m hugely satisfied that Typhoon’s contribution helped in some way to this end."
Asked how big he believed the market for the bikes it makes could be, he said: "If you mean small, lightweight, powerful motors packaged in beautiful bikes for city, road and mountain….huge! If you mean cheating?
"I hope the events of the weekend will nip this is in the bud," he added. "There is no place in our sport for this form of cheating.
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.