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Merckx calls for lifetime ban on motorized doping

The Belgian says using a hidden motor during bike racing "is the worst that [riders] can do."

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DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Cycling great Eddy Merckx says those caught cheating with motors in their bikes, like what happened over the weekend at the cyclocross world championships in Belgium, should serve lifetime bans from the sport.

He responded after Belgian Femke Van den Driessche was caught with a motorized bike during the women’s under-23 race in Zolder, Belgium. After years of rumors, this is the first time a rider has been caught with a hidden motor.

“They should suspend them for life,” Merckx told reporters at the pre-race Tour of Qatar press conference. “For me, they should suspend them for life. This is the worst that they can do, they should just race motorbikes then.”

If caught, a rider faces a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 Swiss francs ($19,700 to $197,000) and a minimum six-month suspension. The UCI recently added a technical fraud rule to its discipline and procedures regulations.

Rumors of motorized doping began in 2010 when Fabian Cancellara zipped away from his rivals and YouTube videos showed him making odd movements with his hands, which some said was to engage the extra power. The Swiss classics champion was never found to be cheating.

The UCI began randomly X-raying and stripping bikes as they would subject riders to anti-doping tests. At the 2015 edition of Milano-Sanremo, a buzz was created when local police worked with the UCI to pull in 37 bikes for post-race testing.

“For me, it’s [worse] than doping,” Merckx said. “It gives you 50 watts more, or 100, it depends on the [motor]. It’s no longer cycling at that point, it’s motor racing, they should go riding with [MotoGP star Valentino] Rossi.”

The rider and his or her support team, Merckx added, should be taken to court.

Merckx won nearly every race, from the grand tours to the classics, during his reign. Many consider him to be the greatest cyclist in history. Now 70, he is no stranger to motorized bikes.

“I also have an electric bike, but I’m no longer racing. I use it for my health. For [racing], I’d never use something like that, that’s very bad,” he explained.

“Today, I rode on a bike, not an electric one. I just use an electric one when I have to climb. I’m not spending so much time on the bike now because I had surgery in November. Today was the first time that I went on my bike since November.”

Asked if an electric bike makes him as fast or faster than in his racing days, Merckx quickly shot back, “Ahhh no. I was faster before!”