ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — In what appears to be a first in cycling, the International Cycling Union confirmed that it had impounded the bike of Belgian rider Femke van den Driessche following the women’s under-23 championship race Saturday. Van den Driessche was a pre-race favorite, thanks to solid results in the World Cup and a stunning second-place finish at the Koppenbergcross, one of the most difficult races on the calendar, in November.
In an interview with Belgian TV network Sporza, Peter Van den Abeele, UCI’s off-road manager, said the bike was caught thanks to new technology the UCI has been developing for several years. “For the UCI, this is the first time we have established a technical fraud and for us that’s a downer. Most people are bewildered [by this].
“Was this a specific control? We’ve been doing tests for a while now at the world championships. In recent years, there’s been some hoopla, and we’ve adapted the technology. The people of the UCI’s technology commission were here in force with good equipment.”
A separate report on Sporza filled in some of the apparent details of what exactly happened.
“After one lap of the world championships, UCI took Femke’s bike in the pit area and tested it with some sort of tablet,” said Sporza journalist Maarten Vangramberen. “The bike was immediately sealed and taken. The UCI then called in the Belgian federation. When the saddle was removed, there were electrical cables in the seat tube. When they wanted to remove the bottom bracket, which is normally not difficult, they could not because the crank was stuck. Inside there was a motor.”
Van den Driessche’s day did not go according to plan. The race was battered by drenching rain and blustery winds, and she did not manage to crack the top 10, abandoning the race with one lap to go, with a broken chain. Whether there was a connection between her departure from the race and the technical control of her bike remains unclear.
The Belgian rides for the Kleur Op Maat-Nodrugs cycling team, on Wilier bikes. And it was, apparently, a Wilier that she was on when the control happened.
“I feel really terrible,” Belgian national team coach Rudy De Bie told Sporza. “This is a disgrace. I never imagined something like this would happen to our team. Why would a rider do this? Especially at such a young age. And who is responsible for her? I’m embarrassed on her behalf.”
A report in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, meanwhile, quoted her father as saying that the bike in question was not used in competition.
“It’s not Femke’s bike,” he reportedly said. “Someone from her team, who sometimes trains with her, brought the bike to the pit. But it was never the intention that she would ride it. … Femke has absolutely not used that bike in the race. We are strongly affected by what’s happened. Femke is totally upside-down.”
According to UCI rules, technological fraud is punishable by disqualification, a suspension at least six months, and a fine of up to 200,000 Swiss francs. A team found guilty of mechanical fraud also could face a suspension and a fine as large as one million francs.