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Cookson confident motor cheating checks work despite ‘60 Minutes’ report

Will “60 Minutes” reveal new bombshells about motor cheating within cycling, or will the TV show rehash of rumors that have been floating around the past few years? The CBS news magazine airs its highly anticipated report Sunday on possible technological fraud within bike racing, with interviews with ex-pro…

Will “60 Minutes” reveal new bombshells about motor cheating within cycling, or will the TV show rehash of rumors that have been floating around the past few years?

The CBS news magazine airs its highly anticipated report Sunday on possible technological fraud within bike racing, with interviews with ex-pro Greg LeMond and Istvan Varias, the Hungarian designer who claims that he developed the technology in the 1990s. In a teaser for the upcoming show, Varias reveals how motors work, and claims that an unnamed customer paid him $2 million in 1998 to share his technology, but keep quiet about it for a decade.

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The UCI is braced for some possible blowback, but UCI president Brian Cookson insists that the cycling governing body is in front of the threat of technological fraud.

“I don’t want to comment on what might have happened in the past, but it’s clear that we took action because we believed the possibility that it was there,” Cookson told VeloNews during the Santos Tour Down Under. “The technology clearly exists, and we have a way to deal with it.”

Rumors were flying over the past few years that pros might be using small motors hidden inside bike frames that provided a decisive boost of extra power in key moments of a race. By 2016, the UCI considered the rumors of “mechanized doping” were plausible enough to introduce new detection techniques.

The UCI started X-raying bike frames as early as 2010, but checks were sporadic at best. By 2016, the UCI unveiled a new detection method using a tablet to measure magnetic flux density, a way of detecting illegal motors that allowed more flexibility and frequency of testing. Little did they know they would catch someone the first time they decided to deploy it, nabbing Femke Van den Driessche in the women’s U23 race at the 2016 world cyclocross championship.

“The first time we tried the system out, we caught one person,” Cookson said. “Did we expect to catch a U23 women’s racer at the cyclocross worlds? Of course we didn’t. And then people asked us why we didn’t keep it quiet, and you could catch some bigger fish? It’s worlds, and can you imagine the rumors that would be going around, and then we would have been the villains for covering something up. The important thing is that the system works well.”

The “60 Minutes” report also quotes three-time Tour winner LeMond who calls for more testing for motors by cycling officials.

“This is curable. This is fixable,” LeMond said. “I don’t trust it until they figure out … how to take the motor out. I won’t trust any victories of the Tour de France.”

Jean Pierre Verdy, former French Anti-Doping Agency testing director, is also quoted. “It has been the last three to four years when I was told about the use of the motors,” he said. “There’s a problem. By 2015, everyone was complaining and I said, ‘Something has got to be done.’”

Cookson defended the UCI’s approach, and said officials conducted “more than 10,000” scans throughout the 2016 season as well as X-rayed frames and even disassembled bikes. Cookson also insisted that the tablets are the most effective way to catch would-be cheaters, saying that other methods, such as thermal imaging cameras, have flaws.

“We’ve looked at all those systems, and thermal imaging works only if you manage to catch the rider while they have the motor on, and that it can pick up heat from other sources,” Cookson said. “If the Tour de France wants to do thermal imagination, that’s fine as well. The system we have now works well.”

AFP contributed to this report