Two leading magistrates based in Paris are reported by French newspaper Le Canard Enchainé to be investigating whether hidden motors are being used at the top levels of cycling.
The satirical newspaper, which like the UK’s Private Eye has a strong tradition of investigative journalism, says that the probe was launched last summer following a preliminary inquiry.
It is being conducted by two magistrates, Claire Thépaut and Serge Tournaire, from a specialist judicial unit based in Paris set up in 2014 to investigate high-profile cases related to fraud and corruption.
Aided by a dedicated anti-fraud unit of the Gendarmerie, the pair are reported to be focusing on the highest levels of the sport, and are said to suspect that some of cycling’s biggest stars may have benefited from the use of motors concealed in the frames of their bikes.
The newspaper notes that “extraterrestrial” performances in the mountains have given rise to suspicions that hidden motors are being used.
When used in the media in connection with cycling, the word – in French, “extraterrestre” – is generally seen as insinuating that a rider is cheating, and was regularly used to describe Lance Armstrong while he was racing.
The term was also employed by ex-pro and now TV pundit Laurent Jalabert to describe Chris Froome when the Team Sky rider won the first mountain stage of the 2015 Tour de France at La Pierre Saint-Martin in the Pyrenees.
UCI president David Lappartient has vowed to crack down on motor doping and said earlier this month that it would be a “disaster for the sport” if a leading rider were caught using a concealed motor.
To date, only one concealed motor has been discovered in competition, hidden in a bike prepared for Belgian under-23 rider Femke van Den Driessche at the 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Zolder.
Rumours persist of their use, however, and in November Lappartient appointed former pro Jean-Christophe Péraud, runner-up in the 2014 Tour de France and an engineer by profession, as the UCI’s manager of equipment and the fight against technological fraud.
The two magistrates reported to be investigating the issue of motor doping are big hitters within the French judicial profession.
Thépaut is well-known for her investigation of former President Nicolas Sarkozy over allegations of corruption and illegal financing of a political party.
Both she and Tournaire are involved in an ongoing investigation into claims that former Prime Minister Francois Fillon employed his wife in a fictitious position as parliamentary assistant.
The investigation was launched in January following an exposé in Le Canard Enchainé at a time when Fillon was frontrunner to win this year’s presidential election, his popularity in the opinion polls immediately plunging.
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.