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Mechanical dopers could have bikes confiscated mid-stage

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SAINT-LO, France — Tour de France cyclists suspected of using hidden motors will be stopped even in the middle of a stage, UCI president Brian Cookson said on Friday.

The International Cycling Union is deploying a magnetic resonance test and thermal cameras to catch any cheats.

“We can do the tests at the start, at the finish, we can take bikes during the race if there are any changes or so,” Cookson said. “It’s not just the bikes that the riders start off the race, we test the bikes on the cars, we test the bikes on the teams’ trucks as well.”

The race starts on Saturday at Mont-Saint-Michel.

The first suspicion of mechanical doping emerged in 2010 when Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara was forced to deny he won Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders with the help of an electric bike after a video appeared to show him pushing a button on the handlebars during both races. Bike checks were introduced, and have been carried out by the UCI at its events.

This year, a Belgian cyclist was caught using a motor on her bike at the cyclo-cross world championships.

“We will both target and be unpredictable,” Cookson said. “We are not going to test every bike and every team every day. We are going to test a large number, probably do over 3,000 tests during the Tour de France, compared to 20 or 30 last year.”

Cookson would not speculate on how widespread was mechanical doping.

“Clearly the technology exists, clearly it is a threat that we have to deal with, and absolutely we will do what we can to make sure we combat it effectively,” he said.

Femke Van den Driessche, the Belgian caught at the cyclo-cross worlds, was the first cyclist caught for mechanical doping in a major competition, and banned for six years.

“After that control in January it was obvious that it was not just a rumor and we needed to do something,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said. “It was perhaps a bit slow, but now we have a true arsenal of deterrent weapons.”

In April, French television program Stade 2 claimed to have detected motors at two Italian races by using roadside thermal cameras. The UCI previously said its magnetic resistance test was more effective than “flawed” heat-seeking tests, which it said were only effective if bikes are filmed close up from motorcycles.

“To reassure authorities in France, the police and (Tour organizers) ASO, if we have to adopt a supplemental method then we will do that,” Cookson said. “We have a good system, we are happy to use an additional system from time to time as we will be using during the Tour.”

In terms of traditional doping controls, Cookson said it will be a “normal regime,” with the possibility of tests at night, as allowed by French law.

The French Anti-Doping Agency and the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation — an independent organization mandated by the UCI — renewed their partnership for the Tour, with targeted tests being carried out throughout the three-week race.

A total of 656 controls were performed during the 2015 Tour, including 482 blood tests and 174 urine tests.

World champ Peter Sagan to race in Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) Three-time world road race champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia has confirmed he will compete in the Tour Down Under in January, the opening World Tour event of the season.

Sagan won the world title last month for the third straight year, becoming the first cyclist to do so. He competed in the Tour Down Under for the first time last year, finishing second on three stages behind Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan.

Sagan, who rides for the BORA-hansgrohe team, said the six-stage Tour Down Under is “the perfect start to the UCI World Tour season each year … a challenging and tough course, warm weather and the passionate fans that cheer for us day in day out no matter what.”

Former Olympic cycling champ fired after positive drug test

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) Former Olympic road cycling champion Samuel Sanchez, who returned a positive doping test in August, had his B-sample confirmed Wednesday and was promptly fired by the BMC Racing Team.

Sanchez’s out-of-competition test revealed growth hormone-releasing peptide 2, or GHRP-2, a drug that increases a body’s level of growth hormone. Several cyclists have tested positive for the drug, among them Italian rider Stefano Pirazzi, who was given a four-year ban earlier this week.

The U.S.-based BMC Team said in a statement Wednesday that it was adhering to its zero-tolerance policy toward doping by terminating the Spaniard’s contract “with immediate effect.”

The 39-year-old Sanchez, who had been provisionally suspended, won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games.