— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 31, 2016
Cycling has a long, dark history of rampant doping and illegal performance-enhancing drug use that it is desperately trying to reform. But it seems that when one form of cheating is cracked down upon, a new form takes its place.
Cycling officials have confirmed the first instance of “technological doping” after finding a motor hidden in the bike of a competitor at the cyclo-cross world championships Saturday in Belgium.
The hidden motor was discovered inside the frame of a bike used by the rising 19-year-old Belgian cyclo-cross star, Femke Van den Driessche. Bryan Cookson, the president of the International Cycling Union, confirmed the infraction at a news conference.
“It’s absolutely clear that there was technological fraud. There was a concealed motor. I don’t think there are any secrets about that,” Cookson said.
Yet, despite the damning evidence, Van den Driessche has maintained her innocence, telling reporters that she would never cheat, and that the bike found with the motor didn’t belong to her.
“I didn't know anything about it. I don't know how that bike got there. I was surprised to see that bike standing there. It's not my bike. There's been a mistake,” she told the Belgian TV channel Sporza through tears.
Instead, she insisted the bike belonged to a friend, and that it was mistakenly given to her by a team mechanic prior to the race.
“It wasn’t my bike, it was my friend’s and was identical to mine,”she told the news station. “This friend went around the course Saturday before dropping off the bike in the truck. A mechanic, thinking it was my bike, cleaned it and prepared it for my race.”
While Van den Driessche said she was hoping for a second chance and welcomed an investigation into the event, others weren’t so forgiving: Patrick Lefevere, the manager of a rival team to Van den Driessche’s, called for the cyclist to be suspended for life.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of cycling’s culture of cheating is that, fearing someone might try to gain a mechanical advantage to game the competition, the UCI actually had to introduce regulations on “technological doping” last year.
Under the new regulations, a violation carries a minimum suspension of six months and a fine of up to £137,000.
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