Mechanical “doping”, a new way to cheat in pro cycling

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Ever since the Lance Armstrong doping scandal revealed widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by competitive cyclists, I’ve pretty much ignored the bicycle racing universe at this blog.

Gruber assist motor; one type of motor assist

Gruber assist motor; one type of motor assist

But here is a new way to cheat that no amount of blood tests can uncover. A Belgian cyclist at the cyclo-cross World Championships has been accused of doping her bicycle.

The UCI reported Sunday that it found a motor hidden inside a bike ridden by Femke Van den Driessche. She later claimed that she knew nothing about the motor, that it wasn’t her bike, it belonged to a friend, and she didn’t know how the bike got there or why she was riding it.

After Van den Driessche walked the bike across the finish line because of an unrelated mechanical malfunction, UCI technicians examined it and several bikes. According to reports, they found electrical cables in the seat post and a motor in the bottom bracket.

If everything pans out, Van den Driessche will be the first pro cyclist to be cited for technological fraud. They’ve been randomly checking bicycles for several months because they knew that this type of skullduggery was possible. The punishment is a minimum 6-month suspension and 20,000 to 200,000 Swiss francs, according to

Bicycling legend Eddy Merckx came down hard against mechanical doping, saying those found guilty should be banned from pro cycling for life.

The five-time Tour de France winner said that using motor assist in bicycle races is more motorcycling than bicycling. At 70, Merckx does admit to using a motor on his bicycle for climbing hills, however. But not in competition.

Hidden mechanical assist on racing bikes works by placing a small motor in the tubing near the bottom bracket. At the touch of a button, the motor helps the cyclist pedal the cranks.

The first allegation of mechanical assist was lodged by a newspaper columnist against Fabian Cancellara back in 2010, when he witnessed the cyclist accelerate at an improbably clip. No tampering was ever proven, however.

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