The latest cycling scandal has generated the kind of comment not seen since the glory years of widespread doping in the sport. Is motorised assistance widespread in cycling? Unlikely, but what is important is that it be nipped in the bud before it does more harm than actual doping. 

Today, Italian bicycle manufacturer Wilier Triestina has threatened to sue Belgian rider Femke Van den Driessch who is alleged to have brought a motorised bike to the Cyclo-cross world championships.

Company chief executive Andrea Gastaldello said he was stunned by the news and announced he would take legal action "to safeguard the reputation and image of the company."

"We are literally shocked, as the main technical partner, we want to distance from this act absolutely contrary to the basic values ​​of our company, and with the principles of each sporting competition," Gastaldello said. 

"It's unacceptable that the photos of our bike is making the rounds of the international media due to this unpleasant fact. We work every day to bring worldwide the quality of our products and when we know that a Wilier Triestina’s bike is tampered with we’re very sad.

"Our company will take legal action against the athlete and against any responsible for this very serious matter, in order to safeguard the good name and image of the company, marked by professionalism and seriousness in 110 years of history."

So far Van den Driessche has denied any wrongdoing, with the exact details of the incident yet to be revealed and subject to further investigation by the International Cycling Union (UCI).

That bike belongs to a friend of mine,” she said. “He trains along with us. He joined my brothers and my father. That friend joined my brother at the reconnaissance and he placed the bike against the truck but it’s identical to mine. Last year he bought it from me. My mechanics have cleaned the bike and put it in the truck. They must’ve thought that it was my bike. I don’t know how it happened.”

The UCI President Brian Cookson said "it's absolutely clear that there was technological fraud," but to what degree we do not yet know.

Clearly we're in new territory with this revelation.

Tuesday 2 Feb 2016


Once proven guilty, any athlete implicated in this form of cheating must be banned, forever. And because this level of cheating does not occur in a vacuum, this should also apply to any mechanics, management, and support staff involved.

Some may question why punishment for technological fraud should be different than that for using a blood booster, such as EPO, which currently brings a mandatory four-year suspension. While both are cheating, there are differences — in terms of both evidence and execution.

With a concealed motor, there is no questioning sample collection process, or lab protocol; no courtroom arguments between scientists and attorneys.

With a concealed motor, there is very little chance an athlete has “gone rogue” and operated on his or her own, without help. Any professional team mechanic would notice the difference in frame weight, and performance, associated with a motor. The degree of conspiracy would be profound, and defenseless.

With a concealed motor, the relationship between man and machine is indelibly altered. The body is no longer the engine. That line has been crossed.

The Inner Ring.

The UCI has found a motor for the first time. This has been a saga over the years with bikes being scanned by X-ray before a prologue or disassembled after a mountain stage. We got a collection of conspiracy videos featuring furtive bike changes and spinning wheels and a lot of whispers. Nothing had ever been found but this was the story that would never die. That’s how conspiracy theories work: a lack of evidence only signals to some that there’s a clever cover-up. Now it’s real and shocking.

There’s now a disciplinary procedure in place which will weigh up the evidence and deliver a verdict, probably within weeks. Crucially the “technological fraud” rule imposes strict liability on the rider and team: it doesn’t matter how the bike or motor got there nor even whether it was used in the race.

Would anyone now be daft enough to use this in a race? You’d hope not but some imbeciles start races with easily-detectable EPO and steroids coursing through their veins so this weekend’s news might be the first case but not the last.

There have been cases in countries such as Italy of families and coaches found to have encouraged up-and-coming riders to use performance enhancing drugs to gain an edge on their rivals, and some fanatical parents, de Vrijs insisted, have a win-at-all-costs attitude towards their offspring.

“Children forced to ride on the rollers before a race, even in the pouring rain. Children on the most expensive carbon bikes with wheels even I can’t afford.”

She wrote that on her own team, there were “Flemish girls who wanted nothing more than to give it up but did not dare because it would disappoint their dad.

“But each week they would disappoint him, because if you don’t like something, you don’t win. I’d feel nauseous seeing how they shuffled around with their parents, head bowed, after every race.”

Noting that the rider’s father “doesn’t seem like a man to be trifled with,” de Vries said, “even if it is a mistake, your life is broken.”

She concluded by reflecting on the experience of another Flemish youngster, Jonathan Breyne, who after testing positive for clenbuterol at the 2013 Tour of Beijing, tried to take his own life. “He was found just in time. And later acquitted,” added de Vries.


Cycling is not the most corrupt of sports, but it is one that the masses don’t understand. There is real risk in that, especially given the sport’s continued self destruction. On Sunday, the website SB Nation began its story about Femke Van den Driessche with “Cycling has the best cheating” and concluded with a request for other sports to cheat better, with things like “magnets inside of receiving gloves and footballs full of metal filings.” When people are angry at your sport, they’re taking it seriously. When they’re laughing at it, you’ve lost them.

We lost a lot this weekend, some of it forever. But I’m not turning my back on cycling. I’ll continue covering it and directing the VeloNews staff to write about the bad along with the good. Already I’ve seen calls to go easy on Van den Driessche, and already I have called BS on that. The suggestion that this was down to bad parenting and crooked coaches might be well intentioned and could be in deference to youth, but it also seems rooted in a belief that women are more easily led astray than men and should thus be held to a lower standard. Women aren’t dumber than men, nor are they smarter.

Red Kite Prayer.

Here’s the thing: Normal doping, as in ‘better living through chemistry,’ is understandable on a certain level. To pursue fitness and to pursue racing as an expression of fitness is to chase the question of just what your potential is. It is the answer to the question, “How good can I be?” Sure, doping is a perversion of that question, but it is also true that doping is simply an extension of it as well. It follows the same basic logic, just without the aid of the moral compass and social contract.

Put another way, doping is a first cousin to eugenics, which was a similar pursuit in response to the question of the physical perfection of mankind. There’s a logic to it, just not one you’d want to admit to your parents.

But mechanical assistance dismisses the hard work of training and the utter monasticism of the athlete’s life for the more base, “Fuck it; I just want to be fast.”

This takes Vincenzo Nibali’s tow at the Vuelta and simply places it at the last 200 meters of the stage, with the team director throwing the one-armed V out the window of the team car.

I gave the peloton enough credit that I didn’t think they’d ever go this route. And while I initially thought the UCI was silly for inspecting bikes, it did occur to me a couple of years ago that part of the reason the EPO problem became so bad was because by the time they attempted to close the barn door, not only were the horses gone, but they’d been auctioned off to the highest bidder. By beginning inspections back in 2010, I realized that most riders would conclude that it would be career suicide to even try to use one.