Professional cyclists rode with hidden motors in their bikes – certainly improving their cycling betting odds – during a recent race, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and French television station Stade 2. A joint exposé claims to have unveiled evidence of seven cyclists ‘moto-doping’ at two races in Italy last month. The Italians and French journalists detected suspicious orange hot spots with thermal cameras, allegedly proving that five riders used bottom bracket motors and two other used rear-wheel magnet systems. The hot spots seem to be the result by the turning on and off of an engine – a variation of an Austrian model that fits a bike’s downtube and produces 250 watts of energy.
The investigators paid a visit to the manufacturer of the $18,000 engine – which would turn on when going uphill and turn off when going downhill. Meanwhile, a French journalist was dispatched to Budapest to meet with a Hungarian engineer who supposedly supplies top professionals with electromagnetic wheels, which are more subtle when it comes to cheating than heavy tube motors – and also more expensive (about $92,000); according to the Hungarian, only elite cyclists could afford the technology. Electromagnetic wheels consist of a series of batteries hidden inside the rear wheel, and a coil tucked away below the seat to generate 60 extra watts of power. And then they could easily place a cycling bet on themselves, if they wanted to.
The Hungarian also said that the International Cycling Union’s current methods will not detect in-wheel moto-doping. However, the UCI has tightened its testing standards after former Belgian rider Femke Van den Driessche was caught with a seatpost motor at the U-23 cyclo-cross world championships in January. The French/Italian report neglected to name names, but did claim that Spaniard Alberto Contador won the 2015 Giro d’Italia with the aid of electromagnetic wheels. A camera placed in the UCI bike inspection area after Stage 18 of the Giro captured footage of Contador’s lead mechanic slowly checking his back wheel and then tinkering with his watch, where the bluetooth activator that controls the electromagnetic field may have been hidden, before the bike was inspected by officials.
Then, Francetv Sport snuck a hidden camera into an official UCI testing tent, where they said they filmed the same mechanic altering Contador’s bottom bracket before the official inspection. The news agencies presented their case to UCI president Brian Cookson, but he maintained there was no conclusive evidence. Still, the combination of thermal imaging footage and interviews with engineers who say they have sold to professionals, as well as the suspicious meddling of Contador’s mechanics, make the allegations of shenanigans all the more credible. We’ve known that pros have attempted to improve their cycling betting odds with performance-enhancing drugs, and now they are coming up with more stealth and sophisticated ways to cheat. In a nutshell, they are out-Armstronging Lance Armstrong.