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USA Cycling now checking for mechanical cheating

USA Cycling checked bikes for illegal motors at the recent USA National Championships with thermal imaging technology.

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USA Cycling checked racing bicycles for illegal motors at its recent Professional Road National Championships, held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the organization said on Tuesday. USA Cycling Technical Director Chuck Hodge said the effort was the first where the governing body made “a concerted effort to identify mechanical fraud.”

“We have been limited to random checks, and have not undertaken those except in rare circumstances, due to the logistics involved,” Hodge said. “An example of where these would make sense would be something like a record attempt.”

The governing body worked with thermal imaging manufacturer FLIR Systems to film segments of the men’s and women’s national championship road races. FLIR Systems manufactures thermal imaging cameras that can detect heat and surface temperatures. According to USA Cycling, the cameras recorded no signs of mechanical cheating.

A FLIR representative said the cameras are capable of detecting “unnatural heat sources like the ones used in mechanical [cheating].”

Hodge said USA Cycling plans to roll out this technology to check for motorized cheating in non-elite and Master’s races in the future. He did not give a timeline for when this technology would be used at lower-level races.

The detection method differs from the technology used by the UCI to find illicit motors. UCI officials use an Apple iPad mini tablet equipped with magnetic detection software. Previously, the UCI tested with an X-ray system, as well as by having officials remove the bottom bracket of competition bicycles.

Last month, UCI president Brian Cookson said that the tablet-based system was more reliable than thermal imaging.

“The system using thermal imaging cameras is not as reliable and not as foolproof as the system that… we’ve developed,” Cookson said. “But we can look at using thermal imaging to supplement our system as well and we will maybe do that from time to time.”

Hodge said USA Cycling plans to invest in the UCI’s tablet-based system as well, but he did not provide a timeline for when that technology would be incorporated into the organization’s efforts. In the future, Hodge said, USA Cycling will use a mixture of thermal imaging, tablet-based magnetic detection, and even spot checks to combat motorized cheating.

The UCI has pursued an aggressive campaign to check bicycles for motorized doping since January’s UCI Cyclocross World Championships, where Belgian rider Femke Van den Driessche was found to have competed with an illicit motor. Van den Driessche was banned for six years.

Cookson said the UCI hopes to perform between 10,000 to 12,000 total checks by the end of the year.