023-a MECHANICAL DOPING

Femke Van den Driessche, in actionn in the World Championship cyclo-cross 2016 in Zolder (Belgium). In one of her bikes a small motor was concealed.
MECHANICAL DOPING IS THE NEW WAY OF CHEATING

World Championship cyclo-cross

The World Championship cyclo-cross surprised us with something new; within the frame of one of the bikes a small secretively concealed auxiliary motor was found. When you are convinced that you have seen everything in the sphere of doping you get this.

Femke Van den Driessche, who had heard of her up to Saturday. Yes, in the lowest ranks of cyclo-cross her name had a certain ring. “Femke Van den Driessche can do a bit of cycling” said a message on a banner this weekend. Now the question is how she did it.

250 Watt is the extra power that can be won with a small concealed motor.

The 19-year-old cyclist of the Belgian Aalst has cheated and in such a grandiose manner that her name shall live forever. In one bike belonging to Femke Van den Driessche a small motor was found. This was an all-time-new for the World Championship cyclo-cross in the Belgian town of Zolder.

‘Mechanical doping’ is the name of this phenomenon, a strangely formulated hint to the persisting headache of cycling. Six years ago there were the first rumours of motorized cycling after the Tour of Flanders. The overwhelming speed in which the Swiss Fabian Cancellare raced to the finish could not be human.

Random checks

The Belgians against the rest of the world

For the Belgians cyclo-cross means topsport and folklore. It is a sport which fits in seamlessly in the messy scenery of the Flemish countryside.

In the first instance – as also in the second – it was a bit of a joke. At that time the world of cycling had enough to deal with “common doping”. But would it be so difficult to conceal a small motor within a bike frame in this time of electrically driven bikes? In 2014 the Italian ex-rider Danilo di Luca claimed that the peloton does in at a large scale.

The international cycling union has been counter-attacking this for a long time. In 2010, before the start of the Tour de France in Rotterdam, the first check for mechanical doping was done. Since then the UCI has done so with random checks, said chairman Brian Cookson in Zolder last Sunday.

He refused to give details. Let sleeping dogs lie. Cookson: “But we do it on a regular basis, not only at World championships, but e.g. also in Milan-SanRemo.

Hunting the cheaters
Femke Van den Driessche, in action at the World Championship cyclo-cross at Zolder. In one of her bikes a small motor was concealed.

The World Championship cyclo-cross was a testcase for the UCI. The hunt for cheaters would be launched with highly sophisticated material. Witnesses have seen officials skimming along bikes with an iPad. This happened in the material-zone where the riders scan change bikes. As early as in the second race of the event, the one for women up to 23 years of age, th UCI got something.

‘An important step ahead’ says Cookson. ‘And an important message to the cheaters: you will be caught.’ Culprits are punished according to the same rules as those for the use of stimulating substances: a fine and a minimum suspension of six months.

Pending the investigation Brian Cookson does not tell anything about the unmasking of Femke Van den Driessche. But when the saddle was taken off the bike the cables became visible. The small motor drove the crank axle, says an attentive mechanic.

One day later the unmasked cyclist told her side of the story. Trembling, and with her gloomy looking father by her side, she appeared on camera for the Flemish television. That particular bike was not hers, said Femke Van den Driessche, but it was the bike of a friend of hers. Well, a friend of my brother’s.’

Tough ride

The twoDie were said to have riden one lap of the race and then they had put their bikes near her camper. The mechanic in charge had thought they were race bikes and thus the bike of that friend could have landed in the material-zone. When she had finished her story her father put an arm round het shoulder.

The young lady who could “do a bit of cycling” had started as one of the favorites. In the Brabantian Huijbergen Van den Driesche had become European champion in 2015. She had opened more eyes in the Koppernberg Cross last year. The Koppenberg is a really tough climb in the Flemish Ardennes, but Femke Van den Driessche could even remain seated on the saddle.

At the time that was an ominous sign of unreliability. With that which we know today Zolder was the first proof. The brother who had brought the friend in question is a cyclist himself too. At this moment he is suspended because of doping – normal doping.

23a-3