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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.

Ferdy Kuebler, 1950 Tour de France champion, dies at 97

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LONDON — Ferdy Kuebler, who came back from injury and the interruption of World War II to win the 1950 Tour de France, has died. He was 97.

The Swiss won an epic battle with French rider Louison Bobet in the 1950 race, and became world champion the following year.

Andre Haefliger, the chief reporter at Swiss magazine Schweizer Illustrierte, said from Kuebler’s home in Switzerland on Friday that he could confirm the death on behalf of Kuebler’s widow, Christina. Kuebler died Thursday at a Zurich hospital. He had been suffering from a cold.

Switzerland’s national cycling association, Swiss Cycling, paid tribute to Kuebler and offered its condolences to his family. “We are taking leave of one of the greatest cycling legends of our time,” it wrote on its website.

For many, his biggest achievement was winning the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege races, then held on successive days, in both 1951 and 1952.

In an era of marathon races on poor roads, Kuebler also won the 1953 Bordeaux-to-Paris after 570 kilometers (356 miles) and more than 14 hours in the saddle.

Born July 24, 1919, into a poverty-stricken family near Zurich, Kuebler knew as a child that he wanted to be a professional cyclist.

Forced as a teenager to find work to support his family, he got a job delivering bread by bicycle.

“I had to climb the mountain up to four times a day. That was how I trained for my career. I told myself: one day you will be a cyclist,” Kuebler said in a 2003 television documentary.

Later, as a Zurich office worker, Kuebler cycled the 100-kilometer (63-mile) round trip from home.

World War II broke out as he was starting to make his name as a cyclist. Kuebler was drafted into the Swiss army.

“I lost five or six of my best years,” he said.

An accident in 1946 that hospitalized him for two months almost ended his postwar career.

He came back in 1947 and started his first Tour, aged 28. He won the first stage, becoming the first post-war wearer of the famed yellow jersey.

In 1950, third-placed Kuebler took over the race lead when Italy’s team of riders withdrew, accusing spectators of assaulting them.

He finished the 4,773 kilometers (2,983 miles) 9 minutes, 30 seconds ahead of Belgium’s Stan Ockers, with Bobet third.

Kuebler chose not to race another Tour until 1954. He finished second, behind Bobet.

After retiring at age 38, Kuebler trained as a ski instructor and worked on the Swiss slopes for 25 winters. In summer he did publicity for the Tour de Suisse and traveled with the race as an official for 35 years.

Kuebler said there was never any other career for him except cycling.

“I always said if I came back to earth – which I hope will happen – I would be a cyclist again,” he said.

New Zealanders join Lance Armstrong in early morning ride

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Several hundred cyclists turned out Tuesday for an early morning ride with Lance Armstrong, who is in New Zealand to film a commercial for a local brewery.

Armstrong issued an invitation by social media to join him cycling around Auckland’s waterfront and a crowd estimated at up to 1,000 turned out.

Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from cycling in 2013 after admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.

Armstrong told the New Zealand Herald newspaper that he was glad to know he still has some support.

New Zealand’s Lion Breweries has confirmed it brought the 45-year-old Texan to New Zealand. In an internal staff email, the brewer said “we are using Lance to tell a cautionary tale called `The Consequence’, which depicts how much you stand to lose when you pursue success at all costs.”

“We wanted to highlight that actions have consequences and we couldn’t think of anyone better to demonstrate that than Lance,” the email said.

Armstrong arrived in Auckland on Sunday from Houston, telling reporters he is in New Zealand on business but has bought his bike and golf clubs.

He took part in a ride later that day with a small group including New Zealand Ironman triathlon champion Cameron Brown.