036 MECHANICAL DOPING – FEMKE VAN DEN DRIESSCHE. WHO BELIEVES HER?

FEMKE VAN DEN DRIESSCHE. She was one of the talents of cyclocross. Until she was caught with a motor hidden in her bike.

The cycling career of Femke Van den Driessche looked promising until last Saterday.  Actually, nobody knew her. Until a small motor in her bike was found. In one fell swoop Femke Van den Driessche was world famous. It was not the least of persons who condemned her unsportsmanlike behavior. Tour winner Chris Froome wanted a tougher approach to ‘mechanical doping’ and the cycling icon Eddy Merckx felt that Femke should be severely punished. A suspension of between six months and a fine of 180.000 euro* is not enough for Merckx. “A suspension for life she deserves. This is the worst thing a rider can do,” Merckx said.  * 180.000,00 Euro = 7.150.406, 00 THB

Eddy Stimul Merckx         Femke
Brian Cookson UCI
Chris Froome

The suspect Belgian rider pledged only many tears and maintains her innocence. Her whole entourage is totally shocked. They say; “We absolutely do not trust anybody anymore, the media have destroyed us. We as a family can only wait and see what happens. And that is very difficult,” Niels Van den Driessche her oldest brother says.

Her career looked promising until last Saturday. It was September 2014 when Femke Van den Driessche seeks email contact with team manager Iwan Gevers of cycling team “Kleur op Maat”. The youth team CT DJ – Matic Kortrijk, for which she rode the last few years had just stopped and Femke, just 17 years old, wanted to follow up her promising future before the start of the new season. She was already two-time national junior champion in 2010 and 2011 in cyclocross and mountain bike. And also in the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing in August 2014 she is did well well: in the General Classification of four cycling disciplines she took the seventh place.

PAY EVERYTHING YOURSELF

2015

Femke van den Driessche (19) was in 2015 European champion at the cyclocross for Espoirs. On the Belgium championship cyclocross in 2011 she won gold in the girls’ race. Two years later she won gold in the same category in national championship cross-country. In 2015 she was the winner at the European Championship in the category Espoirs. In 2016 she won the Belgian National Cyclo-Cross Championships Espoirs, the first time that category was ridden by women.

Iwan Gevers responds positively, but he warns Van den Driessche, he says now:  “ I have written her that we are a team with a low budget, annually 10,000 euros. Then she got one frame, clothes and some material, but otherwise she had to pay everything for herself. Together with her older brother Din Van den Driessche, at the time already stopped for one year as a cyclist on the road and in the field, she had a meeting with Gevers. It is a pleasant conversation and brother and sister made a good impression and a contract was quickly signed.

Gevers did not meet Van de Driessche too often. The team of eight cycling women came only together a few times in the spring to train on the road and doing a training camp in the Ardennes.

Kleur Op Maat / No Drugs Cytcling team. 2nd right Femke Van den Driessche.

The family Van den Driessche was happy with the contract. “KLEUR OP MAAT”, this year NoDrugs came as a sponsor, is a modest semi-professional team that does not strife for a global top ranking. “Riders should feel at ease with us and that is what attracted Femke and her family.” Gevers said. “Her parents wanted to expose her as little as possible to external pressure.”

While Femke in her new shirt and with her new Wilier bike, ends in her races in the middle, her brother Niels was caught for amphetamine. That happens on September 8, 2014. On December 16, 2014 he is suspended by the Flemish Doping Authority for two years and he was not allowed to participate in any organized sport.

WITH HORSE TRAILER ON THE ROAD

The Van den Driessche family had a difficult year behind them. On September 23, 2013, the company of father Peter, ‘Roofing Van den Driessche’ registered in Aalst, was declared bankrupt by the court of Dendermonde. With advertising on the trailer for the company the family went to all cyclo-cross races every year. The former horse trailer – with shower, beds and space for the bikes- is according to cycling magazine ‘De Muur’ bigger and bolder than many other motor homes, the vehicle of choice for many cyclocross riders. Father and brothers built the horse trailer themselves and had put this slogan on it: “We cover everything, including roofs.”

Bankruptcy or not the family visited every weekend with the trailer another cyclocross race. Niels, Peter and Din act as Femke’s mechanics. But on February 2, 2015 it went wrong. According to the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’  Niels and Peter together  with a friend visit in the evening bird shop ‘the Gould Amadine’ in Jabbeke. Pictures from a security camera show how the trio extracted birds from their cage, put them in their pockets and walked away. De spokeswoman of the bird shop put the images on her Facebook. It is said to be about the expensive Lancashire canaries, worth 400 euros each. The case has yet to be brought before the court in Brugge. Niels and Peter risk a heavy fine or even a prison sentence of up to five years.

Brother Niels
Femke´s father stealing birds.
Lancashire canary


Meanwhile, the youngest member of the family does better and better in the mud and the sand of the cyclocross races. She is performing that strong that prior to the second World Cup of the season in Valkenburg, she is approached by Rudy de Bie, coach of the Belgian cyclocross, to join the Belgian selection. The family Van den Driessche was honored, says De Bie, and agreed. Her first race as a member of the Flemish selection is in Valkenburg on October 18, 2015; between all the top riders of the world she achieved an excellent eleventh place. Two weeks later is the Koppenberg cross, one of the toughest in the circuit of the Post Bank Trophy. Since last Saturday there is in retrospect much discussion about this race. Van den Driessche rode with a great show of power on the steep climb of 600 meters ten seconds away from all her opponents. She finished the race second, the name Femke Van den Driessche was officially established.

That impressive performance provided various deals from different teams such as BKCP Corendon, the team of Mathieu and David van der Poel. Christoph Roodhooft, team leader, said to have had an initial discussion with the family after he had monitored Femke for two years. The conversation came to nothing. Femke would take it easy. She felt good in ‘Kleur op Maat/NoDrugs’.

A week later she proves she is in perfect shape. In Huybergen, in the south of the Netherlands, she becomes European champion in the category under 23 years. She beats the Dutch Maud Kaptheijns especially on the parts which must be run, said the Dutch girl afterwards. Nobody had any suspicion.

Maud kaptheijns
Danny de Bie
The last meters of Femke
The last meters of Femke

But Kaptheijns admits that during the World Cup race in Lignieres – en – Berry, where Van den Driessche acts thirteenth, and her colleagues noticed something strange on the frame of Femke’s bike. Kaptheijns: “The pipe at the bottom was a lot thicker than normal, about that we talked together in the peloton. And the bike she rides, Wilier, has only one kind of frame. I know that her father is doing repairs at home with carbon.  Since that moment everyone had a weird feeling about Femke and her bike.”

GLORIOUS DAY

And then it is Saturday, January 31, 2016. It should be a glorious day for Femke and her family. Together with her elder brother Niels, who should not be there at all because of his suspension, Femke is warming up on the trail of Heusden-Zolder, where she was five weeks earlier 22nd during the World Cup. Yet she starts, at this World Championship, as one of the favorites for the title, because for the first time in the history of the World Championship there is a distinction between Espoirs and pro riders. But while in the pouring rain her chain breaks in two, and she in the last lap leaves the race, the officials of the international cycling federation, UCI, find after a tip in one of her spare bikes an electric motor, in all likelihood from the Austrian firm Vivax. A tablet with X software sizing the frame thickness and discovers a strange mass around the bottom bracket. The bike is sealed and the UCI gives a press release: for the first time in the history of cycling hidden mechanical doping is found in a bicycle frame.

Exactly the same frame Wilier, with the same motor can be ordered easily on the internet, such as the cycling trade Math Salden in the Netherlands where you can buy this bike for a small 5000 euros. That is about 200.000,00 THB.  But Dion Kerckhoffs, sales manager of Math Salden says that the battery is not concealed in the frame, like Van den Driessche’s bike, but this is under the saddle in a bag or a bottle. “If you want to cheat you have to open the frame, place the battery in the tube and strengthen the frame at that location with extra pieces of carbon. If the motor vibrates, the frame breaks in places without reinforcement. There you need to add additional pieces of carbon. For that you need a person with knowledge of business. A carbon repairman for example.”

A day later Femke reacts in tears in front of the cameras of the Belgiam television. It was not her bike. Father Peter sits with his arms crossed next to her. His furrowed brow making his expression worrisome, almost desperate. Nico van Muylder, a family friend, he was an elite cyclist who stopped cycling 2 years ago after he had beaten an opponent in the face. He is a pigeon fancier and owner of cafeteria‘t Pasto Frietje in Bruggenhout. He takes  the blame. It is his bike that he previously bought from Femke. With that bike he sometimes trains with her and in that bike they found the motor. Someone from the entourage of Femke must have taken the bike unsuspectingly to the Word Championship track. But the big question remains: who believes her?

Femke with her father
Nico van Muylder

When I read this story seems it seems clear to me that the other cycling girls, the opponents of Femke, have brought the UCI the golden tip. It is almost inevitable if you read the story of Maud Kaptheijns. There is also a positive side on this matter because the self – cleaning capacity of cycling is hereby demonstrated. Moreover, it is an additional reason for the UCI no cause whatsoever to complacency.  It remains also now a failing organization.

Bradley Wiggins says, “I think has been going on for some time. There have already been strong suspicions for 6 years. It’s certainly happened before but then they have not discovered it. It’s good in a sense that they have discovered one after all that time. Blood doping is one, but a race bike with a hidden motor is two. It is different but not necessarily worse, it is both equally wrong.’

Bradley Wiggins


I fully agree with Wiggins. It is thanks to Femke Van den Driessche the whole world is aware of the motor in her bike and especially that it is fairly easy to detect it without too high costs. That information could of course better be given by the UCI. But because of Femke’s pioneering work she deserves a statue. She has saved the cycling sport from a major disaster because the motor in cycling sport certainly will not get a foothold.