Pro cycling will employ new technology to combat ‘mechanical doping’

Pro cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste International (UCI) announced extensive new measures to crack down on what it calls “technological fraud.” The organization is promising to use an array of technologies to ensure that pro riders aren’t installing hidden electric motors on their bike that could give them a major competitive advantage over the rest of the peloton. These new methods of scanning arrive just as the 2018 cycling season gets underway with the hopes of preventing widespread cheating before it begins.

For the 2018 season, the UCI will continue to use the thermal imaging cameras and magnetic scanning tablets that is has employed over the past couple of years in an effort to catch riders in the act. But, those devices have come under increasing scrutiny with investigators in France and Germany showing ways to potentially evade detection.

In response to those allegations, the UCI has also purchased an X-ray unit that is mounted inside a cargo van. That system can reportedly generate an X-ray image of a bike in less than five minutes, which should reveal any hidden motors or other devices. That van, which is said to be completely safe for its operators, the riders, and the general public, will be driven to most major races this season and will be used to verify the outcome of those events. Those races will include the single-day cycling Classics and Grand Tours, such as the Tour de France.

UCI X-Ray machine for bikes

The UCI also joined forces with the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) to create a new magnetometer that is about the size of a smartphone. The device can be mounted inside a bike and is used to detect hidden motors by searching for stray magnetic fields that appear throughout a race. Riders will sometimes swap out bikes or wheels throughout an event, making it more difficult to actually detect and find a hidden motor. The magnetometer would be a constant on the bike however and would alert officials of any unusual magnetic activity that would be the telltale sign of “mechanical doping.”

In the future, the UCI said that it plans to add RFID tags to bikes and wheels that will make it easier for officials to investigate suspicious activity. Those tags will allow quick and easy identification of a bike, or its individual parts, when scanning for hidden motors.

To date, only one athlete has been caught using a motor in a bike during a sanctioned event. In 2016, Belgian rider Femke Van den Driessche was caught using such a device while competing in a cyclocross event in her home country. Other pro riders have been accused of such activity in the past, but so far none have actually been caught using the motor.