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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.

2019 Tour will honor 1st victory of 5-time champion Merckx

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BRUSSELS (AP) The start of the 2019 Tour de France will be all about honoring Eddy Merckx in his hometown of Brussels.

Merckx, known as “The Cannibal” for his ferocious taste for victory, won the first of his five Tours in 1969. Half a century later, the Belgian great still sees it as one of the major accomplishments for a cyclist generally considered to be the greatest ever.

“I wore the yellow jersey 96 times. It is the best memory of my career. It still gives me goosebumps,” Merckx said during Tuesday’s presentation of the Grand Depart – the opening weekend of the three-week Tour.

Merckx also won a record 34 Tour stages and is among four riders who won the Tour a record five times. French riders Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish great Miguel Indurain are the others.

Tour organizers said it will be the second time the race will set off from the Belgian capital, which hosted the race’s Grand Depart in 1958.

The 2019 race will also mark 100 years since the race leader’s yellow jersey was created.

When it comes to the first two stages on July 6-7, the iconic Wall of Geraardsbergen climb should take center stage.

The 192-kilometer (119-mile) first stage of the Tour will have the Wall, for decades the toughest climb in the Ronde of Flanders classic. The Wall will come early but the stage, which makes a big loop south of Brussels, is still set up for a sprint finish close to the royal palace.

It will also have its stretch of famed Flemish cobblestones and will pass through the hometown of soccer player Eden Hazard.

The second stage will be a 28-kilometer team time trial through the Belgian capital along its wide-open boulevards. The riders will also pass by St. Pieters-Woluwe in suburban Brussels, where Merckx lived as a child and where he got to pull on his first yellow jersey.

From Brussels, it is an easy trek south into nearby France for the rest of the race.

Peter Sagan wins prelude to Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Three-time world road racing champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia made an outstanding start to the 2018 cycling season Sunday when he won the People’s Choice Classic, a prelude to the first World Tour event of the season, the Tour Down Under.

Sagan beat star sprinters Andre Greipel of Germany and Caleb Ewan of Australia in a bunch sprint to win the 50.6 kilometer (31.4 mile) race over 22 laps of a street course in central Adelaide.

The win means Sagan will wear the tour leader’s ocher jersey in the first stage of the six stage Tour Down Under on Tuesday. Sunday’s race does not count toward general classification.

Ewan won the race in each of the past two years and Greipel is the only three-time winner. The 132-strong field that lined up for the race Sunday included seven former winners.