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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.

Andy Rihs, Swiss owner of cycling, soccer teams, dies at 75

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BERN, Switzerland (AP) Andy Rihs, a Swiss businessman who owned the BMC Racing cycling team and Young Boys soccer club, has died. He was 75.

Rihs died Wednesday in Zurich after “a patient and valiantly endured illness,” the BMC team said Thursday in a statement.

“Our grief is indescribable, but we will carry on his values,” the team said, praising Rihs for his “generosity, his sense of humor, and his infectious laugh.”

Rihs’s death comes with Young Boys close to winning its first Swiss league title in 32 years. Young Boys leads by 11 points with six matches left.

“Andy, thank you for everything. We will miss you,” Young Boys said in a statement.

Rihs’s brother, Hans-Ueli, is also an owner of the club and Stade de Suisse in Bern, known locally as Wankdorf. The stadium staged the 1954 World Cup final.

As BMC owner, Rihs secured a Tour de France title five years after his previous team was involved in a doping scandal. Cadel Evans of Australia wore BMC’s black and red colors to victory in the 2011 Tour.

In 2006, the Rihs-backed Phonak team disbanded after American rider Floyd Landis was stripped of the Tour title.

Cycling’s top riders set for Tour of California next month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The top men’s and women’s teams will compete next month in the Amgen Tour of California, the premier U.S. cycling race.

The men will cover 645 miles over seven stages from Long Beach to Sacramento from May 13 to May 19. The women will have three of the top five teams for their three-day, 187-mile race that starts May 17 in Elk Grove.

Race owner AEG announced Thursday that Pete Sagan will ride for the BORA-hansgrohe team while Mark Cavendish will go for Team Dimension Data and be joined by Rafal Majka.

Tony Gallopin of AG2R La Mondiale is in the men’s field. So is LottoNL-Jumbo’s Nielson Powless, the race’s best young rider in 2016.

The women feature 2016 champion Megan Guarnier of USA Cycling National Team, Katie Hall of UnitedHealthcare and Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon/SCRAM.