Magnetic, heat scanners to catch Tour de France electric motor cheats

I like to mod by bicycle, I like to drive my bike

Vuture Velo cycling jersey

Extra technology is being wheeled out for this year's Tour de France to scan bikes for hidden electric engines.

In the past few years, there have been several cases of cyclists concealing small battery-powered motors in the tubes of their velocipedes to give a bit of extra speed during competitions.

To protect the integrity of the world's most famous cycle race, the sports cycling industry's governing body – the Union Cycliste Internationale – will deploy thermal imaging and magnetic resonance testing kit to spot Tour de France cheats.

"Since the beginning of the year, we are sending a clear message, which is that there is literally nowhere to hide for anyone foolish enough to attempt to cheat in this way," said UCI President Brian Cookson.

"A modified bike is extremely easy to detect with our scanners and we will continue to deploy them extensively throughout the Tour and the rest of the season."

Electric cheating on bicycles is a comparatively new field and typically involves a battery-powered motor dropped into the vertical frame tube and connected to the main crank. This can give around 30 minutes of assisted pedaling, which could be crucial in a tight race.

In April, Belgian rider Femke Van den Driessche was barred from competition for six years after a motor was found in her bike's frame during the UCI Cyclo­cross World Championships in January. She has been stripped of her titles and will have to give back her prize money.

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The Bluetooth-operated motor was discovered using kit developed for the UCI that employs a tablet, case, adapter and custom-made software and can scan a bike in less than a minute. If the magnetic scan looks dodgy, the bike is taken apart for further inspection.

The technique has proved superior to thermal imaging cameras for detecting foul play, since that only works when the bike is in motion. Under those circumstances both the rider's heat and that of moving parts need to be taken into account.

The UCI has tested x-raying bikes, but the testing equipment is too bulky. Ultrasound equipment has also been trialed, but proved ineffective due to the differing materials racing bikes are made with these days.

"We have invested considerable resources in developing this new and highly effective scanning technology and also in strengthening the sanctions applicable to anyone found cheating in this way," said Cookson.

Typically the cheating problems of cycling have been down to drugs or the use of oxygenated blood packs that the competitors transfuse in-between stages. But now "mechanical doping" is a thing, and the UCI wants to crack down hard. ®

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