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Tour de France

Strange noises in the Tour de France? ‘It was a rice cake!’

Despite rumors of illicit motorized assistance at the Tour de France, riders say it's highly unlikely.

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LIBOURNE, France (VN) — Salacious reports that the Tour de France peloton might be rife with motors and mysterious hubs made the rounds overnight.

A Swiss newspaper cited unnamed sources suggesting that there were “strange sounds” emanating from the hubs of some of the top teams in the peloton, suggesting illicit technological fraud.

When asked if riders heard strange sounds in the bunch during this Tour, Mikkel Bjerg, a teammate of yellow jersey Tadej Pogačar, offered up a tongue-in-cheek answer to the mysterious sounds.

“I saw yesterday some Tweet, and we made a bit fun of it, because on the first crosswinds stage, I got a rice cake stuck on my back wheel,” Bjerg told VeloNews. “It was going tuck, tuck, tuck, tuck! Oh man, it’s the rice cake sound!”

Also read: Report raises specter of ‘motorized doping’

Joking aside, reports of illicit motorized assistance continue to surface in the media.

Yet riders shake their heads in collective dismay, saying the notion that motors hidden inside bikes seems a bit of a stretch, at least at the WorldTour level, where bikes are regularly checked and X-rayed.

“I didn’t hear any strange noises,” said former world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo). “If people think we have motors in the bikes, they are more than welcome to check them to see if we have them. We also do our work at home — it’s a big joke.

“Of course, it would be nice to have an engine to pump out 100 watts all day,” Pedersen told VeloNews with a smile. “I don’t know where [the reports] are coming from. If there is a new hub on the wheel, maybe it is making a different noise than normal. I didn’t hear anything special.”

Also read: UCI says no evidence of technological fraud midway through Tour de France

On Friday, yellow jersey Pogačar pushed back against reports of motorized bikes or some sort of illicit hubs. 

“I don’t know. We don’t hear any noise,” a bewildered Pogačar said when asked by journalists Friday. “We don’t use anything illegal. It’s all Campagnolo materials … I don’t know what to say.”

Despite the rise in popularity of e-bikes, which are powered by electric motors, and some suggestion that riders might have used them in the past, most pros in the peloton say that the idea of illicit motors or other technological fraud is highly unlikely.

“I can only talk about myself, but I am sure how I come to this level in cycling,” said Saturday’s stage-winner Wout van Aert when asked by VeloNews. “I worked super hard for it. I cannot believe it’s within our team. That’s not happening.

“It’s hard to say about the others. I did not see extraordinary things in this Tour,” van Aert said. “There are a lot of talents and strong guys who were prepared for it perfectly — that’s what’s making the difference, not things like that.”

The UCI, however, takes the threat of “motor doping” very seriously.

The cycling governing body checks dozens of bikes a day before each stage at the Tour, scanning frames with an iPad to detect hidden batteries. At finish lines throughout the Tour, select bikes of the jersey holders, stage-winner, and other randomly selected bikes are X-rayed. Bikes can also be disassembled. 

After introducing enhanced detection methods and rolling out a mobile X-ray lab, no evidence of technological fraud has been detected at a major WorldTour race.

Riders joked that they wish they had motors, but when speaking about it seriously, no one said they’ve ever seen or heard motors in the peloton. 

“For me, it’s a bit crazy. If you really look at it, we are doing slower times,” Bjerg said. “If we have motors, we should be doing bunch sprints faster and climbing faster. I don’t know who made up this story.”