|"Mechanical doping" check at the 2015 TdF.|
As the technology for electric assist motors has improved and gotten more and more compact - to the point that it could be concealed easily inside the oversized carbon fiber frames used by all racers - then the possibility that someone could try to use the technology in competition seemed to become a question not of "if" but "when."
It looks like "When" is "Now."
The outcry was immediate. Eddy Merckx proclaimed that anyone guilty of mechanical doping should be banned for life. Wilier Triestina, the maker of Van den Driessche's bike (the pre-adulterated version, anyhow) is going so far as to threaten legal action against the rider for tampering with the bike and besmirching their reputation. The rider herself faces at least a 6-month ban and some pretty big fines.
Van den Driessche, for her part, denies any wrongdoing. "I don't know how it got there. I'm focused on myself that day. I took care of myself . . . the mechanics made a mistake." Later, she said that the bike she used wasn't her bike. "That bike belongs to a friend of mine. He trains along with us. He placed the bike against the truck but it's identical to mine. My mechanics have cleaned the bike and put it in the truck. They must've thought it was my bike. I don't know how it happened." Although some might find the excuses hard to swallow, apparently a family friend of Van den Driessche's has come forward claiming to be the true owner of the bike, and trying to lend credence to the story. On the other hand, the racer's brother, who is also a bicycle racer, is currently under suspension for doping.
Dammit this sport is hard to take seriously.
|State of the art for mechanical doping?|
Unless someone is in the top ranks of professional racing, though, I can't imagine how the rewards make any of it even remotely worthwhile. The source in the Gazzetta article mentions that numerous gran-fondo riders are using hidden motors (bought from him, supposedly). Others resort to "traditional" doping - as in, drugs. The expense of such things can't possibly lead to any kind of payoff for someone in any kind of amateur racing, gran-fondos, or Strava KOM-chasers -- but I have no doubt that these are all places and situations where people are probably trying to get away with it (and maybe succeeding). And in the professional ranks, where a person can potentially profit from their "enhanced" results, it's reprehensible. Truly, the whole thing is just pathetic.
There are so many ways to cheat now, it seems, that it makes someone like me wonder why anyone would bother getting worked up about bicycle racing -- either as a fan, or as a participant. Chasing after Strava titles when the "competition" could easily be using a motor? Join the ranks of licensed racers, only to wonder if your typical mid-pack finishes are because the winners are cheating, or if it's simply because you suck (likely both)?
Bicycle racing has a serious credibility problem. And instead of getting better, it just looks like it stands to get a whole lot worse.