LIBOURNE, France (VN) — First there were questions about doping, and then about team manager Mauro Gianetti.
Now Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) is facing insinuations of “technological fraud.”
Following a report in the Swiss newspaper Le Temps that claims unnamed riders in the Tour de France peloton suspect some teams are deploying “motor-doping,” Pogačar pushed back against new suspicions that his insurmountable lead is ill-gotten.
“I don’t know. We don’t hear any noise,” a bewildered Pogačar told journalists Friday. “We don’t use anything illegal. It’s all Campagnolo materials … I don’t know what to say.”
The Swiss paper reported that riders in the bunch are hearing “strange” noises in the rear hubs of bikes used by Pogačar and other top riders. The report does not go beyond those off-the-record insinuations.
- UCI says no technological fraud mid-way through Tour de France
- Pogačar comments on relationship with Mauro Gianetti
The question of “technological fraud” continues to haunt the Tour de France peloton.
Some believe that top pros are using or have used mechanically assisted bicycles during the Tour and other major races, via either motors hidden inside bike frames or magnetized wheels that can fuel batteries and illegally assisted hubs.
Midway through the Tour, the UCI updated details of the detection methods it deploys to combat the so-called technological fraud, saying that more than 700 controls were carried out without any evidence of cheating.
The UCI uses a magnetic scanner via a tablet to preview bikes at the start and finish, and also X-rays select bikes at the finish lines as well.
The UCI can also disassemble bicycles if it wants for closer inspection. Last year, a Jumbo-Visma sport director was kicked out of the 2020 Tour when commissaires took apart the bike of Primož Roglič at the top of the Col de la Loze summit in the Alps.
The latest accusations come as Pogačar is poised to win his second consecutive yellow jersey, the first repeat winner since Chris Froome won three in a row in 2015-2017.
Last year, Pogačar stunned the peloton with a final-hour surprise to topple Roglič in the climbing time trial on the penultimate stage.
This year, Pogačar’s untouchable dominance and associations with ex-pro and controversial manager Gianetti, who managed riders with high-profile doping scandals such as Riccardo Riccò and Juan José Cobo, have renewed doubts among skeptics.
So far, there is no direct evidence of cheating, motorized or pharmaceutical, against Pogačar and his Eddy Merckx-like domination.
The air of suspicion grew this week at the Tour after France’s doping police on Wednesday night searched hotel rooms and team vehicles of Bahrain-Victorious, which has won three stages this year.
Authorities, which also confiscated cell phones, computers, and power data files from some riders and staffers, opened an official inquiry.
Matej Mohorič won Friday’s stage in a solo attack, and used a “zip-it” victory salute made famous by Lance Armstrong decades ago at the finish line to express his anger, later telling journalists he “felt like a criminal” following the police raids, and insisted the team had “nothing to hide.”
Considering the Tour’s notorious doping history, it is inevitable that anyone who wins or claims the yellow jersey in dominant fashion will face questions and doubt.
Fair or not, Pogačar will need to become accustomed to doubts from some quarters. It’s as part of winning the Tour de France as is the post-stage winner’s protocol.