Another Way to Cheat in Cycling: Hidden Motors

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Femke Van den Driessche _Sporza

It’s been suspected for a while. The effortless speed. The wheels continuing to spin way longer than they should after a crash.

Tiny motors in bicycles.

“Bike doping.”

And finally, on January 28, 2017, a bicycle of a racer who had dropped out of the cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium was seen to have electrical cables coming out of part of its body, according to this article. Upon further investigation, a small motor was found.

The bike belonged to a 19-year old Belgian cyclist named Femke Van den Driessche, a champion of Belgian national cyclo-cross and junior mountain bike tournaments. She was a favorite in the Zolder event until a mechanical problem ended her race. It has also put her career in suspension as Van den Driessche was banned for six years, and would be required to forfeit all results since October 10, 2015.

Van den Driessche said “It wasn’t my bike — it was that of a friend and was identical to mine,” according to this article. But her coach, Rudy De Bie said he was “disgusted.” “We thought that we had in Femke a great talent in the making but it seems that she fooled everyone,” he told Sporza.

Coincidentally, the day after this first publicly realized case of “bike doping”, the American news program, 60 Minutes, aired a segment entitled “Enhancing the Bike“. Correspondent, Bill Whitaker went to Budapest, Hungary to meet an engineer named Stefano Varjs, who designed a motor small enough to fit unseen inside the frame of a bike and powerful enough to motor an adult up a hill with relative ease.

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Stefano Varjas and Bill Whitaker_60 Minutes – click on image to watch this 60 Minutes’ segment.

When Varis showed this invention to a friend in 1998, the friend said he had a buyer who wanted this technology and would pay a handsome sum, if the buyer was assured of exclusive right to this technology for 10 years. Varis was paid USD2 million, an offer he simply could not refuse.

From that point on, it has been suspected that motorized bikes have been used in competitions, even the Tour de France. Here is part of the transcript of the 60 Minutes report:

Jean-Pierre Verdy is the former testing director for the French Anti-Doping Agency who investigated doping in the Tour de France for 20 years.

Bill Whitaker: Have there been motors used in the Tour de France?

Jean-Pierre Verdy: Yes, of course. It’s been the last three to four years when I was told about the use of the motors. And in 2014, they told me there are motors. And they told me, there’s a problem. By 2015, everyone was complaining and I said, something’s got to be done.

Verdy said he’s been disturbed by how fast some riders are going up the mountains. As a doping investigator, he relied for years on informants among the team managers and racers in the peloton, the word for the pack of riders. These people told Jean-Pierre Verdy that about 12 racers used motors in the 2015 Tour de France.

Bill Whitaker: The bikers who use motors, what do you think of them and what they’re doing to cycling?

Jean-Pierre Verdy: They’re hurting their sport. But human nature is like that. Man has always tried to find that magic potion.

Watch the video below to see an example of a possible bike that’s been doped.