PÉRIGUEUX, France (AFP) — An amateur cyclist caught riding a motorized bicycle in a race Sunday could be charged with fraud, a local French public prosecutor said on Monday.
The 43-year-old, who hasn’t been named, was snared in a targeted sting operation run by the Perigueux public prosector alongside French cycling and anti-doping authorities.
Jean-Francois Mailhes, the prosecutor for the southwestern commune, said “the cyclist justified his actions by claiming other riders were using various methods” to cheat and that he “wanted to level the playing field.” Mailhes said the cyclist admitted to using the bike in five races since August 21, “earning around 500 euros” in prize money.
He said the bicycle motor was bought in France but the frame came from China. Both were procured online for a total cost of around 3,000 euros ($3,500), Mailhes added.
The cyclist had been deliberately targeted after a dramatic recent improvement in his results. He is the third person to have been caught riding a motorized bicycle in competition.
“My only doubt was whether he would have his bike rigged that day,” said former professional Christophe Bassons, who now works with the anti-doping program in the Aquitaine region.
It all started with a good tip. Complaints were lodged with the French Federation of cycling (FFC) and the president of the Mussidan (Dordogne) club, to which the rider belongs. “My role is to have a network, trying to get information about doping practices or trafficking in doping products,” Bassons added.
He explained that images found online and via social media were used as well. “We have photos, we analyze them, we zoomed in on them. Everything confirmed it.”
In January 2016, Femke Van den Driessche became the first competitive cyclist to be found using a motorized bike at the junior world cyclocross championships, an offense which saw the Belgian national junior champion cop a six-year ban from the International Cycling Union.
In July, 53-year-old Italian Alessandro Andreoli was caught out at a race in Italy following a tip-off to organizers.
Although organizers claimed he’d admitted to using a motorized bike after a thermal camera had been used to identify a motor, Andreoli later pleaded innocent to La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.
He claimed his recent upsurge in fortunes on a bicycle had been due to overcoming “back pain” and “training hard.”
The French cyclist told a local radio station, France Bleu Perigord, that he’d cheated “not to win races or earn money” but rather to help him get over sciatica and a herniated disc, claiming it helped “reduce pain at the end of races.”