Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Motorized doping: What will fraudster-cyclists think of next?!

Just as in financial fraud, cheaters in sports are constantly innovating and finding new ways to beat the system. In baseball, they not only have been found to use steroids but they also have been known to put cork in their bats. In cycling, the methods we have known about have been largely biological using performance enhancing drugs. Word has it that cyclists have starting using their version of corked bats. If so, I'm totally appalled and disgusted!

Rumor has it that the latest method of cheating in cycling is to put an electric motor inside your bike frame and to use it to get an extra 100 watt power boost when the EPO and steroids are just not cutting it. When my brother sent me a Youtube video that details this "motorized doping" (see below), I thought it must be some sort of joke. Is this video some sort of hoax or what?!

The video shows how a motor is inserted into the seat tube of a bike frame and is connected to the drive train of a bike through the spindle. The video claims that the motor can spin the spindle and crank to power the wheel of the bike. The motor is hidden from view and is turned on and off by a concealed switch on the racer's shift lever.

The video goes on to accuse the Olympic time trial champion, Fabian Cancellara, of using such a motor in two races earlier this year. If you follow cycling, you'll know that Fabian has been able to blow away the competition by basically riding them off his wheel. This takes super human effort since it's about 25% easier to ride behind someone than it is to break the wind--especially at higher speeds.

(Unfortunately, given all the cheating in cycling, I personally have wondered where Fabian got his superhuman power of late and wondered if he would be found to have doped or something. That is the casualty in all this news since now when someone does something remarkable my reaction is "What's his doctor been giving him?" With that said, I never imagined he may have used a motor hidden in his downtube! I'm not saying he did, but it's looking more like a possibility all the time.)

As it turns out, my initial reaction to the motorized doping video was similar to what Fabian Cancellara said when he was asked about it. Todays news reports that Cancellara's reaction was: "It's so stupid I'm speechless." Stupid or not, the video has had almost half a million views and is characterized as "almost believable" by the same news article that quoted Cancellara. The Youtube video was put together by the former professional cyclist, Davide Cassani and has english subtitles. A NYT article claims that Cassani says he has seen and ridden the bike and that he can go over 30 mph without any effort!

Cancellara's main rival in some of these early races is Tom Boonen who rides on team Quickstep. Not surprisingly, today's CyclingNews reports that Quickstep manager Patrick Lefevere "thinks the possibility of motorized doping within the peloton could be a reality."The same article went on to say that the International Cycling Union is investigating the matter.

Apparently, the UCI's technical chief, Jean Wauthier, has been quoted today as saying the UCI is essentially behind the times on this one. Wauthier said: "If there's been some kind of fraud, there's no way of proving it." He followed up by also saying: "Certainly we're going to have to speed up our research so we can scan all competition bikes in a quick and efficient way. Up till now, such controls simply haven't been used."

Last month we read that Floyd Landis confessed to doping and claimed Lance Armstrong and other pros and team managers were also involved. In a few years, when a pro cyclist wants to "clear his conscience" like Landis did last month, he may be heard to say something like: not only did we do blood doping, EPO, steroids, and human growth hormone, but we also had a team engineer who provided electric motors in our bikes!

Whether this really has happened in pro cycling or not, the UCI needs to stay abreast of all the latest ways to cheat so they can catch any fraudsters or prevent potential cheaters from thinking they might be able to get away with new ways to cheat.

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