The UCI has announced its new strategy to address the threat of "technological fraud," or the use of any hidden propulsion devices at the upcoming Tour de France, which starts tomorrow, July 1.
Using magnetic tablets - introduced in 2016 - with new software, officials will examine every bike being ridden in that day's stage at the start of each day. After each stage, officials will also check the bikes ridden by the stage winner, any rider wearing one of the yellow, green, polka dot, or white leaders' jerseys, three or four random riders, and any rider who raises suspicion, for whatever reason, according to a press release yesterday. The post-race examinations will use a mobile x-ray cabinet, introduced in 2018, which can generate a high-quality image of a complete bike in five minutes, as well as newly-introduced handheld devices that use backscatter technology and instantaneously generate images that can be transmitted to the UCI Commissaires for further analysis.
It's clear that the UCI takes the threat of mechanical doping quite seriously. "Our range of tools to fight against any form of such cheating enables us to carry out checks that are rapid and effective," said the UCI's Head of Road and Innovation, Michael Rogers. "This is essential to be sure that cycling competitions are fair and to protect the integrity of the sport and its athletes."
At last year's Tour de France, the UCI conducted 1,008 bike checks and detected no cases of technological fraud, the organization said. While allegations of mechanical doping have been tossed around since at least 2010
, the only confirmed use of a bike with a hidden motor in elite competition happened in 2016 at the UCI Cyclocross World Championships, when U23 favorite Femke Van den Driessche of Belgium was banned from the sport for six years and fined 20,000 CHF.
Checks have become commonplace at all UCI WorldTour events, the UCI Road World Championships, UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships, UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup, UCI Women’s WorldTour events, the Olympic Games, the UCI Track World Championships, and the UCI Cyclocross World Cup. In mountain biking, mechanical doping controls are only carried out at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships.
In the context of the UCI's clear concern about technological fraud, it will be interesting to see whether mountain biking follows suit. In Pinkbike's 2021 State of the Sport Survey
, we polled 198 professional riders on their opinions on a wide range of topics within the sport, we discovered that most mountain bike racers feel fairly unconcerned toward the threat of mechanical doping.
When given the prompt "'Mechanical doping,' using a hidden electric motor, is a problem in XC racing," 52.8% of cross country racers responded "Neutral," while 36.1% answered "Disagree" or "Strongly Disagree," and just 11.1% chose "Agree" or "Strongly Agree." For the same prompt applied to enduro racing, a strong majority of 75.4% disagreed, even though there's arguably the most to gain from using a motor in enduro racing, compared to cross country or downhill. 20.3% were neutral, and 4.3% agreed. Downhill racers appear the least concerned, with 85.6% disagreeing that mechanical doping is a problem in downhill racing. 8.4% answered neutrally, and 6% agreed.
No cases of technological fraud have been discovered in mountain biking, but it will likely remain a focal point as bike motor technology becomes more sophisticated.