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The man charged with snuffing out motorized cheating for the UCI is alleged to have alerted a motor supplier to a police investigation at last year’s Tour de France, according to French television program Stade 2.
The accusations hinge on two emails. The first is between UCI technical director Mark Barfield, who has led the UCI’s efforts to detect motorized cheating, and Harry Gibbings, the head of motorized bike company Typhoon. The second is between Gibbings and a Hungarian engineer involved with the development of hidden bike motors, Stefano Varjas.
Taken in combination, the email string suggests that Barfield shared information about a French police investigation with a potential subject of said investigation.
The UCI responded early Monday, issuing a written statement that takes issue with this version of events. It noted that the email from Barfield was not sent directly to Varjas, the subject of the police inquiry, but rather to Gibbings, the head of a legitimate company that has previously aided the UCI.
“The UCI has full confidence in its staff employed in this area,” the statement reads. “It will investigate whether emails sent in 2015 to an external consultant were passed on to a third party and used in a way that no-one intended.”
Barfield sent the first email on July 11, 2015, on stage 8 of the Tour de France. The email asks Gibbings whether a Hungarian engineer the French police are looking for is related to Typhoon.
“I’m sitting with French police who believe an engineer “Hungarian” is visiting TDF today to sell a bike and visit teams, could this be your guy???”
Barfield confirmed to Stade 2 he had sent the email.
According to the headings on the emails acquired by Stade 2, Gibbings then forwarded Barfield’s email to Hungarian engineer Stefano Varjas, who has developed hidden cycling motors. He was employed by Typhoon at the time, according to the program.
The email from Gibbings to Varjas reads:
“The French police have opened a file on ‘motor doping’ and will proceed under ‘anti-cheating’ laws.
I have given no information on Stefano or any of the customers from the past only saying that Typhoon were happy to help in anyway possible to try and detect a similar system in racing bikes.
My understanding is that I will be contacted again in the future. Nobody has asked me for the names of Typhoon’s engineers; yet.
Bill doesn’t know about this at the moment, but we are due to meet at some point today when I’ll have to tell him.
I don’t need to tell you guys that this is a very big and serious mess.
As I get anymore information I will pass it along to you.”
When Barfield was confronted with the emails at the Criterium du Dauphine last week, he said his intention was not to impede a French police investigation, but rather to “provide information to help the police.” Typhoon is a partner of the UCI; when the UCI demonstrated its motor-detecting tablets in early May, it used Typhoon bikes and Gibbings was present.
The UCI explained in its statement Monday that the Gibbings was among the group of experts the UCI consulted “in the process of developing an effective method of detecting technological fraud.”
The Stade 2 reporter then asked Barfield if it was normal for the UCI to disperse confidential information from the Gendarmerie nationale, the French national police, to UCI partners. Barfield explained that Typhoon also provided information to aid the police, again stressing its position as a partner of the UCI.
According to Stade 2, the police “do not have the same version” of events.
Gibbings was confronted in Monaco and claimed that Varjas was not at the Tour de France last year. The program reports that French police lost track of Varjas on July 12, the day Gibbings sent the above email.
Varjas is allegedly owed tax authorities 2 million euros in 2008.
France has strict laws specifically targeting cheating in sport. Though they were designed in large part to combat physiological doping, it is possible that the same laws could be used to apply stiff penalties, including jail time, to anyone selling a motor into the pro peloton.
The UCI has appeared to take a firm stance on the issue of mechanical cheating. Officials have tested thousands of bikes with a special tablet designed to detect the magnets found in every electric motor. It expects to test more than 10,000 bikes by the end of the 2016 season.
“The message that I want to give out to anyone who is considering cheating in this way is that we will find a way and we will catch you sooner or later and the chances are, it will be sooner,” UCI President Brian Cookson said at a demonstration of its motor detection technology earlier this year.
No hidden motors have been found since the first ever case of motorized cheating, that of Femke Van Den Driessche at cyclocross worlds earlier this year.