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Former pro cyclist accuses Jumbo-Visma of motor doping, questions Sepp Kuss' Tourmalet performance

With a distinct lack of evidence, former Quick-Step rider Jérôme Pineau took to a French podcast to make the allegations against cycling's dominant force, accusations rubbished by a Jumbo-Visma sports director...

Retired pro cyclist Jérôme Pineau, who rode for Quick-Step for five seasons and won a Giro d'Italia stage during his 16-year professional career, has suggested Jumbo-Visma are doping mechanically.

The eyebrow-raising remarks came on RMC's Les grandes gueules du sport podcast, Pineau unable to provide any hard evidence except his own opinions on Jumbo-Visma's Col du Tourmalet performance, asking: "How can you explain that?"

The Dutch team is the sport's dominant Grand Tour force at the moment, on the men's side of cycling at least, winning the last two editions of the Tour de France as well as both of this year's Grand Tours, and are well on track to completing the clean sweep with Sepp Kuss, Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard going into the third week of the Vuelta a España in first, second and third place on general classification.

And it was race leader Kuss' performance on Friday's Col du Tourmalet summit finish which attracted Pineau's scpeticism.

"The international bodies are destroying cycling," he said. "They let too many things happen, don't control anything any more and do what the big teams want. That's the danger. Then you can start thinking whatever you want.

> A brief history of motor doping in cycling, from the pro peloton to amateur hill climbs

"We see the images… I'm not talking about doping, but about something much worse. Mechanical doping? Yes, mechanical. If you look at Sepp Kuss' attack on the Col du Tourmalet, against riders like Juan Ayuso, Cian Uijtdebroeks – who is seen as a great talent – ​​and Marc Soler. They're not losers on bicycles, are they? Kuss rides ten kilometres per hour faster during his attack, then has to brake by a spectator and then rides ten kilometres per hour faster again.

"How can you explain that? Cycling is my sport, I lived from it and still live from it. It's my passion, but I'm scared. It worries me very much. I see certain things happening... On the Col de Spandelles (during the 2022 Tour stage finishing at Hautacam) Kuss goes ahead for ten seconds without pedalling. I don't know how that's possible."

On the lack of evidence question, Pineau said: "There was never any evidence with Lance Armstrong, but we riders in the peloton knew about his deception. Now exactly the same thing is happening." has contacted Jumbo-Visma for comment. Merijn Zeeman, a sports director for Jumbo-Visma, told GCN they are the "comments of a 'team manager' who signed multiple riders and staff and then in October it turned out that he was fooling everybody and put all these people in a bad position? That person can talk about others?"

Zeeman's comments reference Pineau's role as team boss of former second-tier French outfit B&B Hôtels-KTM, who were last autumn linked with the signing of Mark Cavendish and Audrey Cordon-Ragot as part of a project to find new sponsorship and keep the team in existence beyond 2022.

That search came to nothing, Cordon-Ragot in January angrily speaking out about the saga, saying she had been told "elite-level lies" and "pushed around"

It is not the first time Jumbo-Visma has been accused of motor doping. During the 2016 Giro d'Italia, French TV programme Stade 2 raised suspicions about a bike change made by Roglič shortly before he started – and won – the stage nine individual time trial.

However, after this year's Tour de France, the UCI said it is "impossible" to get away with hidden motors, as all 997 Tour de France tests came back negative. With the stage winner and race leader's bike routinely checked after every stage, we can estimate Vingegaard's bikes would have been checked at least 17 times during the three-week race.

> Mechanical doping: All you need to know about concealed motors

Former Belgian cyclocross rider Femke Van den Driessche remains the biggest name, and only top-tier professional, to be caught mechanically doping. In 2016, the UCI banned her for six years and handed out a 20,000 Swiss Francs fine following the discovery of a concealed motor in a bike prepared for her at the World Championships in Zolder.

Other riders and teams have been subject to accusations over the years, notably Fabian Cancellara by Phil Gaimon, however the seven-time monument winner always strenuously denied the accusations which disappeared due to a lack of evidence, leaving Van den Driessche as still the only top-tier professional to be caught mechanically doping.

At a lower level, in September 2022 we reported how a French pensioner was caught motor doping during a hill climb after the 73-year-old aroused the suspicions of race organisers by finishing just three minutes behind the winner on the 10km-long climb.

And while there is yet to be a high-profile case in the UK, in 2016 a to-the-point website called Doped Bikes launched purporting to sell motors specifically designed to be hidden within bikes during races, only to later reveal it was, in fact, a 'honeypot' operation aimed at finding out who was prepared to cheat.

Founders Moreno Grazioli and Roberto Bassi said they were part of a "group of concerned racers and industry insiders" who wanted to "find out who was prepared to cheat our sport". The pair alleged they had been contacted by an unnamed "UK team boss". No further detail was ever given.

Dan is the news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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Kapelmuur | 8 months ago

I was wondering why they let a domestique use the powered bike, but I guess Vingegaard got it back today.

Simon E | 8 months ago

Jérôme Pineau was "unable to provide any hard evidence except his own opinions"

Nuff said.

Pineau is just throwing rocks. Or perhaps the RMC podcast bunged him some extra cash to grab a headline and get their name in the news.

Is he suggesting that the UCI complicit while claiming to scan all the bikes?

It is an easy claim to disprove, even with MTB Refugee's suggestion of them using brushless 50g motors. And if Jumbo-Visma are doing it why has no-one else thought of it?

Jimmy Ray Will | 8 months ago

I think this is all very improbable. Someone would have blabbed by now. You just couldn't keep that under the radar, not with that level of dominance. 

However, I was amused at either the incredible witt, or stupidity of Zeeman as he mirrored the Armstrong approach of attacking the messengers credibility rather than addressing the message. 


Matthew Acton-Varian replied to Jimmy Ray Will | 8 months ago

Innocent or guilty, shooting the messenger happens a lot in all walks of life.

Psi Squared replied to Matthew Acton-Varian | 8 months ago

Uhm,  a person's not a messenger if all they're delivering is accusations and a decided lack of any evidence whatsoever. Spewing BS does not a person a messenger.  And when a person does that, they deserve everything they get in return.

Rendel Harris replied to Jimmy Ray Will | 8 months ago
Jimmy Ray Will wrote:

I think this is all very improbable. Someone would have blabbed by now.

In his excellent book Snake Oil the late John Diamond described this as the James Bond paradox, the villain has maybe 200,000 people working for year to knock them up their underground lair in the retractable lake under the volcano and not one of them goes back home and when someone down the local says, "Alright Fred, where you been then?" says "You won't believe this but..."

Kapelmuur | 8 months ago

How is a motor, battery and gear box hidden in a standard racing bike?

And how is the noise suppressed?

How does a rider manage the additional dead weight when the battery loses charge?

MTB Refugee replied to Kapelmuur | 8 months ago

You're thinking too big.

A pro doesn't need an electric motorbike for it to be useful. A Di2 battery weighs 52g and can hold 3.7Wh of energy, that's a little over 100W of assistance for just over 2 minutes. Plenty to assist in a sprint finish or to make a break away. Brushless motors are silent and can be extremely small or large (make the entire back wheel the rotor with fixed magnets). 250g worth of batteries and 250g worth of motor.

Matthew Acton-Varian replied to MTB Refugee | 8 months ago
1 like

Considering that pro cyclists are often still weight weenies I struggle to think that riders would want 500g of dead weight for 140km and 5 hours of racing just to have a 100w advantage for only 2 minutes at the end. Look at how UAE are using those Carbon Ti brake rotors for about 20g extra weight savings, at no other performance gain.

Then you have to fit these systems aftermarket into wild contorted bike frames. The S5 aero bike seat tube is contorted round the rear wheel so fitting a shaft drive motor would be difficult. You would need a way to secure everything in place on these frame tube shapes which for the motor would need to be properly thought out and engineered, and not just a duct tape DIY job as it may come loose.

As proven at the TdF, cheating scrutiny is higher than ever, the chances of getting away with it are ever slimmer. TJV are known for using any legal method even if it is morally questionable (they make no secret of giving their riders ketones) for any advantage they can get.

Following the Lance Armstrong revelations, and that Lemond still believes he used motors as well, I doubt the UCI would leave any stone unturned to keep the sport as clean as possible.

There are always going to be riders who try to get away with breaking the rules, and we have seen a few get caught even in the last two years. Doping control is and always will be a predominantly reactive measure to try and keep the sport clean so you can never guarantee a fair result until after an event. But as long as all measures are robust and widespread then at least 99% of all results once classified will be clean.

MTB Refugee replied to Matthew Acton-Varian | 8 months ago

500g would give you 5x 2.1 minutes at 100w (50g x 5)so about 11 minutes at 100w or 1000w for a minute. The frames used by pros are custom made, so it's even easier to integrate than off the shelf.

I'm postulating using off the shelf weights, custom battery setups and motors could be made significantly lighter. I'm not actually agreeing that it happened recently, just that it could. I'm not sure that I agree with your assumption that it isn't worth the weight penalty.

Besides, it's not just blue sky thinking it's actually happened in real life during 2016 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. If they caught one, then others will have done it and got away with it.

philhubbard replied to MTB Refugee | 8 months ago
1 like

It's very rare for pro frames to be custom made any more with the price of moulds. Most teams just get a raw frame (or wax/clear coated) for special races rather than anything being changed in the layup

OnYerBike replied to MTB Refugee | 8 months ago

Whether or not motor doping exists in the pro peleton, I very much imagine stage winners' bikes are top of the pile when it comes to testing, and it sounds very much like the testing technology available would easily detect a battery and/or motor within the frame cavity, no matter how well concealed to the naked eye. 

Rendel Harris replied to Matthew Acton-Varian | 8 months ago
Matthew Acton-Varian wrote:

Considering that pro cyclists are often still weight weenies I struggle to think that riders would want 500g of dead weight for 140km and 5 hours of racing

I think it's highly unlikely that motor use is going on in the World Tour, but the weight needn't necessarily be an objection as a rider could simply fake a mechanical just before the point at which they would need the most assistance and get their motorised bike off the car. If that point was somewhere in the middle of the stage they could have another mechanical and swap again to come home with a "clean" bike; I wonder whether the UCI testers check all the bikes a winner has used during a stage or only the one they came home on? Is there any scrutiny to stop mechanics from surreptitiously removing batteries et cetera from a bike that has been returned to the car? As I said, I don't actually believe it's going on, but it's easy to think of tactics that could be used to avoid the scrutineers.

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