Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) stood outside small corral behind Thursday’s pink-covered podium presentation, arms akimbo, legs bowed out by the tall cleats on his shoes, looking a bit lost. He’d just ridden his way into ninth overall in the Giro d’Italia, sticking with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) over the top of stage 18’s major climb. Now the UCI was taking his bike off into a tent.
“They were checking my bike for a motor,” he said, walking out of the closed-off paddock after his Cannondale was returned.
The whole process took about four minutes, as rider and soigneurs looked on. The UCI didn’t find what it was looking for, in Hesjedal’s bike or in any others.
Hesjedal’s was one of five bikes snatched at the finish line by men in dark blue UCI polo shirts as part of an ongoing effort to root out what has, thus far, proven to be a unicorn of a rule violation — a bike that powers itself. Though the technology does exist, few pros seem to think it feasible.
The UCI also checked the bikes of stage winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Ag2r’s Rinaldo Nocentini, FDJ’s Kenny Elissonde, and Contador. A UCI official refused to comment on the checks when queried, but an official race communique described them as “unnanounced bike checks to clarify the absence of hidden motors.”
“We proceeded to verify the bicycle by removing the saddle, or the pedal axle to view the inside of the bottom bracket,” the communique states.
Rumors of impropriety tend to spread like wildfire within the confines of the professional peloton, even if they have, historically, rarely made it past those confines. But of half-dozen riders polled on Thursday, not a single had ever heard a single concrete story of motorized assistance. In fact, most didn’t believe it to be possible at all. Most simply laughed — a far cry from the tight lips that usually greet questions about cheating.
“I haven’t heard any rumors about it,” said Nathan Brown, one of Hesjedal’s teammates, and a young rider who entered the sport well after peak omerta. “I don’t see any way there could be motors in the bikes.”
Hesjedal, speaking with VeloNews and then a quickly gathering group of reporters, was succinct in his judgement of the new tests.
“It’s the stupidest thing. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not possible. It’s just not possible.”
Possible or not, the UCI wants to keep this particular method of cheating from getting a head start.