Update: UCI confirms the presence of a motor on Femke Van den Driessche's bike in Sunday's press conference, and U23 bronze medalist Quinten Hermans weighs in. More details below.
Greg Lemond, Davide Cassani and other industry vets have warned us it's already happening, but at the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships, we saw the first-ever potential case of "mechanical doping" in the form of a motorized bike, and it electrified the cyclocross and cycling community:
The details are as clear as the Zolder mud, so stay tuned for more updates on this breaking story as it develops. Here's our summary of this development as it currently stands.
What We Know:
- The bike is from Femke Van den Driessche, the current Belgian and European Women's U23 Champion.
- They have found electrical cables and a motor inside the bike, according to Sporza, translated:
- "After one lap of the World Championships...Femke's bike in the pit area was immediately sealed and taken."
- "When the saddle and seatpost was removed, there were electrical cables from the tube."
- "When they wanted to remove the bottom bracket, which is normally easy, it was not because the crankshaft was stuck. Just sat there the motor."
- Femke Van den Driessche had mechanical issues both at the start and at the finish and was visibly upset after her race and did not receive a finishing place.
- Tests have been done since the Hoogerheide UCI Cyclocross World Cup in 2014 to look for motors. Now these tests have found something.
- The UCI has an app and tablet to scan bikes. Peter van de Abele confirmed that the UCI is able to scan bikes in seconds. "Through our (developed) app on a tablet, the bike can be scanned and analyzed in no time," he said, according to demorgen.be.
- Brian Cookson of the UCI held a press conference on Sunday, 10 a.m. CET to address this topic.
The leader of the UCI confirmed that a motor was indeed found on Femke Van den Driessche's bike, saying, "It is no secret that a motor was found." He believes the motor was "technological doping," adding a third term to what's also been referred to as "mechanical doping" or "technological fraud."
The proceedings will be legal in nature, and Cookson did elaborate on next steps, which could include sanctions of not only the rider but perhaps teams or staff. Rider can pay up to 200,000 Swiss Francs and the team may have to pay up to 1 million and her suspension can be up to lifetime. It's certainly a new situation for all involved.
It's unclear whether the bike was used today or earlier this season. Nieuwsblad reports that her father attempted to explain the bike's presence, saying, "Someone from her entourage, who sometimes trains with her, [brought] the bike down into the pit. But it was never the intention that they would ride it."
The UCI' confirmation seems to imply the bike was used in competition.
As to why someone would bring an obviously illegal bike into the pits, even if not to be used, is inexplicable. It's not much different than inviting an EPO user to bring vials over to your trailer that you don't plan to use.
Femke Van den Driessche has had some strong performances this year beyond her U23 wins at the Belgian and European Championships. One of her standout rides include the Koppenberg Cross, where she was the fastest climber:
Fast climbing does not indicate mechanical doping obviously, but as Velofacts points out, her times are impressive. You can see her climb the Koppenberg here.
It's also worth noting that Femke Van den Driessche's brother Niels is currently suspended due to EPO usage. Do family values matter?
Femke Van den Driessche's team has a "NoDrugs" sponsor displayed on her helmet:
There Have Been Examples:
Ex-pro Davide Cassani has said mechanical doping has been around since 2004 and has tested a motorized bicycle:
The Pros Weigh In:
Wout van Aert was shocked at the news, saying, "I am very moved by this message, and did not know that something was going on in our sport. It is also a very strange feeling that this is precisely before the World Championships coming up."
Sven Nys weighed in, and was reported by hln.be to be worried about this new development, stating, "This can really hurt the sport, as a toothache. There was no evidence of abuse, but there is decided more and more to be tested."
Quinten Hermans, third in the U23 race on Sunday, also expressed his opinion while defending the reputation of the Belgian team. "Just a stupid individual did it," he said. "You always have individuals who try to cheat, she was one of them. Was just stupid."
Colorado-based Sophia Gomez Villafane, who competed in the race for Argentina and finished 19th, was also curious what she raced against:
Stay tuned as we bring you the latest on this breaking story, but don't let it overshadow the great racing from today. See the ever-growing collection reports, results, photos and videos from the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships here.
And it's just cyclocross, right? Maybe we can have a laugh: