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UCI proposes money for motorcycle doping tips from whistleblowers during the Tour

The UCI president announced that the organization will pay financial rewards to whistleblowers who provide evidence of hidden engine use in the Tour de France and other prominent races.

David Lappartient said the international cycling body was determined to root out fraudsters who use technological fraud. “We will pay if there is a case,” Lappartient told the Guardian. “This shows how seriously we take this issue.”

Despite ongoing debate, there is little concrete evidence of technological fraud.

One of the earliest and best-known cases dates back to the 2010 Tour of Flanders, where Fabian Cancellara was accused of using an electric motor during an unconventional sitting attack.

The issue arose again in the 2014 Vuelta a España when Ryder Hesjedal was accused of mechanical doping after a crash on stage 7, with video footage showing his bike’s rear wheel spinning on the ground. Hesjedal vehemently denied the allegations, calling them impossible.

Under pressure from the public, the UCI began testing engines and conducted thorough inspections of bikes, including those of Hesjedal’s team. Despite these efforts, no engines were discovered. Regular inspections at major races such as Paris-Nice and the Giro d’Italia began in 2015.

In 2016, French TV show Stade 2 reported that mechanical doping may be more common than previously thought, with a thermal camera used to capture suspicious heat signals during races such as Strade Bianche and the Coppi e Bartali. The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera documented seven possible cases of engine use.

Lance Armstrong was also the subject of motorcycle doping speculation, with observers pointing to his actions during races. Armstrong denied these claims and attributed his behavior to adjusting his shorts for comfort.

In September 2023, former professional Jérôme Pineau accused Sepp Kuss of mechanical doping during the Vuelta a España. Kuss denied any involvement in doping and emphasized his commitment to fair competition.

During the 2016 Cyclo-cross World Championships, Belgian cyclist Femke Van den Driessche was caught with a motor in her bike. She claimed the bike belonged to a friend and had been accidentally placed among her equipment.

Lappartient emphasized the podcast Ghost in the machine: “The worst case scenario for the UCI would be to ignore a case of technological fraud when we are informed. It would not only tarnish cycling, but also undermine the institution itself.”

Doping has long plagued cycling, mainly involving needles and pills. The rise of hidden engines represents a new challenge.

“We cannot ignore this problem or dedicate sufficient resources to combat it,” Lappartient asserted. “With technological advances, including smaller and less detectable engines, we need to invest more in both technology and research.”

As for current detection methods using tablets, Lappartient acknowledged: “It’s better than nothing, but it lacks consistency. Cheating is still possible with a tablet. I am skeptical that tablets alone are enough to combat technology fraud.”

Lappartient drew a parallel with the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, noting: “There have been long-standing suspicions and allegations against top riders regarding engine use.”

Lappartient reflected on the impact of Armstrong’s case on the UCI’s credibility, noting: “Armstrong’s arrest was a pivotal moment for us. It took two decades to restore our credibility. If a motorcycle doping case were to emerge tomorrow, it could jeopardize our sport.”

The Tour de France starts on Saturday. Let’s hope for a race without controversy. And remember, let’s hope not vroom vroom!