With her announcement yesterday in Belgium to that she will return to bike racing to compete at the 2016 Sea Otter Classic, disgraced cyclocrosser Femke Van den Driessche has finally made some admissions of riding a bike with a motor.
“I’ll shock the cycling world with what I can really do when I have a battery and motor,” Van den Driessche defiantly told Het Belang Van Limburg (hbvl.be) yesterday after a training session on her friend’s motorized Wilier cyclocross bike.
Van den Driessche will line up not in Sea Otter’s cyclocross race on Saturday, but in the 60-minute unsanctioned eMTB e-bike race, sponsored by Bosch, on Friday.
Don’t Call It a Comeback
The disgraced 19-year-old Belgian racer has had a high-powered, electric roller coaster ride these last few months. After getting caught in Zolder at the 2016 UCI Cyclocross World Championships with a motorized bike that she maintains was not hers and she never rode, Van den Driessche, was threatened with a lifetime ban and a 50,000 Swiss Francs fine by the UCI. In response to the threat, Van den Driessche opted to quit the sport instead of defending herself in Aigle, Switzerland in front of the UCI. Some worried she was being made into the scapegoat for a corrupt system, team or family that masterminded the plan to cheat.
Just a few weeks later, in a return to competition, Van den Driessche took to running, placing third in a local 10 kilometer race. After her race, she told Belgian press that it “helped to clear my senses after the commotion of recent weeks surrounding the motor in my bike.”
Now, with her recent announcement of her intentions to contest the Sea Otter eMTB race, Van den Driessche has made it clear she craves the electrifying, sense-clearing thrill of competitive racing again, and in a way, seems to be a peace with what happened. If anything, she’s leveraging and amplifying the experience.
Experience Is Key
“It’s really amazing technology that took a while to get used to. If you thought I was fast before, you should see me now! My motor pacing sessions are…energized to say the least.” -Femke Van den Driessche
“I think I’ll have an advantage with my friend’s motorized Willier cyclocross bike at Sea Otter,” Van den Driessche told Het Belang Van Limburg. “I’ve seen maps of the e-bike race track at that Laguna Seca park, and it doesn’t look that technical, but it looks hilly, which is perfect. My friend’s bike has carbon wheels, Dugast tubulars, and will be at least 10 kilos lighter than others’ motorized mountain bikes. Plus, I’m many kilos lighter than most of the other industry racers who have…how do I say? More American bodies? I should be able to get more minutes at full pedal assist power than everyone else.”
The industry eMTB event, with a $5,000 cash purse on the line earmarked for trail work, is a high-stakes event, and Van den Driessche thinks experience is key to winning. “The 60-minute race isn’t that different than a cyclocross race, and I’ve already proven I can win in cyclocross with my climbing ability. What’s another 15 minutes when now I have a battery and motor?”
While Van den Driessche has been successful at hilly races like the Koppenberg Cross, others point to her success racing there as proof of her earlier cheating, but she maintains this e-bike race will be her first competitive event. “I’m pretty lucky that my riding style works well with e-bikes,” Van den Driessche explained. “You can’t just jump on a pedal-assist bike and expect to win a race, against e-bike or human-powered racers. It’s so different! Seated climbing, at a relatively high cadence, is what works best, which just happens to be how I naturally ride on climbs and over cobbles, and it’s helped me excel on the long climbs like the ones I expect in Monterey. Plus the switches to adjust the power level on these bikes are so small, they’re almost invisible on my friend’s Wilier, and take a lot of practice before being able to use them in a race setting.”
In lining up for the event, all of Van den Driessche’s e-bike talk might seem to be her way subtly admitting technological fraud guilt, but she’s not quite reversing her denial. “Since Zolder, I’ve ridden my friend’s e-bike quite a lot, as I had nothing to lose. It’s really amazing technology that took a while to get used to. If you thought I was fast before, you should see me now! My motor pacing sessions are…energized to say the least.”
Flipping the Switch for Trails and Charity
“…I could do this for a good cause and hopefully some lucky American trail users will benefit.”
Van den Driessche’s racing the eMTB race may seem like an admitted doper showing up at a local unsanctioned grassroots mixed terrain or top gravel race, but she doesn’t see it as such a power grab. “I can’t race UCI races anymore, but this e-bike race isn’t a UCI race, and I’m only in the industry category,” Van den Driessche explained. “Plus, a $5,000 USD prize is up for grabs to a local trail group, so I could do this for a good cause and hopefully some lucky American trail users will benefit and realize that I, and my family, aren’t bad people. I’m now using a motor to do good.”
Not everyone is buying the defense however. One editor of a major cycling magazine, who wished to remain anonymous, told Cyclocross Magazine he thinks the parallels are similar to lining up next to Lance Armstrong at a local criterium. “Doping has lasting, long-term physiological benefits, and Femke’s experience riding that motorized bike is a distinct advantage over someone like me, who has never raced this specific e-bike on this exact course, let alone ever really managed a limited power supply,” he said, and then proving his point by cutting our conversation short due to his dying phone battery.
When Cyclocross Magazine reached Van den Driessche to ask her opinions on the editor’s complaint about her entry, she maintains the editor’s gripes are not justified. “I’ve heard anyone can go online and buy a bike, just like my friend’s Wilier, to practice. I’m sure he can afford one more than I can. Plus aren’t cycling editors like him always boasting about how fast they were able to ride some just-released new bike or wheelset on a foreign course in some exotic location with amazing scenery for the very first time? How is this any different?”
“Plus aren’t cycling editors like him always boasting about how fast they were able to ride some just-released new bike or wheelset on a foreign course in some exotic location with breathtaking scenery for the very first time? How is this any different?”-Femke van den Driessche in response to an editor’s complaint about her unfair advantage
Still, Van den Driessche is undeterred by the criticism, and is looking for a US-based trail stewardship to partner with in case she wins the $5,000 prize. She says interested trail organizations without a racer contesting the e-bike event can reach her at [email protected] to partner up before the race and claim the $5,000 should she win the industry event.
There are rumors that her brother, banned for performance-enhancing drugs, is contemplating entering the same e-bike race, as it is a non-WADA regulated event, but Van den Driessche told Cyclocross Magazine she is opposed to the idea. “This is a pedal-assist race, and I see what’s in his medicine cabinet,” she said, alluding to the fact that both siblings still live with their parents. “You still have to pedal, and he’s done enough to damage the family name and sport of cyclocross, and shouldn’t risk giving the clean, zero-emissions new sport of e-bike racing a bad name. Plus, I’m tired of riding in his draft.”
Anticipating “The Femke Bump”
Bringing in an alleged mechanical doper to headline a first-time e-bike event at Sea Otter seems like risky business, but the festival’s organizer insists they did not coordinate the trip and are powerless to prevent her participation in the non-UCI event. “We hope she doesn’t try to race Saturday’s cyclocross race,” a Sea Otter spokeswoman said with some concern, but there appears to be a big upside. “Honestly, she’s the closest thing to an e-bike celebrity we have, and if it causes publications like yours to give the event press, it might just be a net positive.”
E-bike manufacturers might also be pleased by the controversial racer’s appearance, but no company would go on the record with Cyclocross Magazine as welcoming her. However, PowNed.tv reported that e-bike sales enjoyed a big jump after the Zolder scandal. The Dutch publication cited two e-bike dealers pleased with the development. “Femke was really good advertising,” one shop owner said, while another recalled the benefits of the “Femke Bump,” stating, “Previously we sold at most one or two built-in motors per week. Now it five. For us it is fortunate that Femke has done this.”
If Van den Driessche has a good showing in the e-bike race, we would not be surprised to see her signing autographs at an e-bike brand’s booth after Friday’s race.
Now wouldn’t that be a shocking turn of the cranks?
The e-bike race is Friday, 4pm at Sea Otter. See the Sea Otter website for more info on the event. Stay tuned as we plan to observe this curious event and return to racing by Van den Driessche.
This post was published on April 1, 2016.