What is mechanical doping and how can technological fraud be combated? We spoke with Jean-Christophe Péraud, former race rider and UCI head of the “Technology and the fight against technological fraud” department.
Tour de Suisse:What is generally understood by “mechanical doping” and what techniques are known?
Jean-Christophe Péraud: In the case of technological fraud, an external aid is fitted to propel the driver.This type of fraud generally involves an auxiliary engine that helps the driver to pedal.
TdS: In the social media, there are always excerpts from videos in which cyclists have fallen and their back wheels continue to spin like magic. Could these really be cases of “mechanical doping”?
UCI:Naturally, a wheel should turn. Normally these pictures can be explained by inertia power. But we must remain vigilant and ensure that our sport remains fair.
TdS:What measures has the UCI generally taken against “mechanical doping”?
UCI:Since 2018 we have been using X-ray technology. This method was chosen in addition to the magnetometer introduced in 2016. So we can check the performance and among other things we can control the winners. The principle remains the same as for doping controls. We want to protect the image of the athletes and our sport.
We have also planned a magnetic tracking technology so that all bikes can be controlled during the whole race. We hope that with this technology, which will soon reach the prototype development phase, we can finally dispel the doubts about our sport.
TdS: How does the UCI conduct the tests at races of the WorldTour such as the Tour de Suisse?
UCI:We currently use two types of technology in the WorldTour races: The already mentioned X-ray solution to ensure reliable results, but also magnetic resonance examinations by tablet to check as comprehensively as possible. With this technology, most bikes in the race can be controlled at the start.
TdS:Which technical manipulations can be detected with these tests?
UCI:The X-rays can detect any element inside the bicycle. Magnetic resonance enables the inspection of ferromagnetic elements. Most electric motors are ferromagnetic and can therefore be detected. The planned magnetic tracking technology can detect a motor regardless of its technology.
TdS: How many and which bicycles are tested?
UCI:If an X-ray machine is available, the winner’s bicycle or bicycles are tested. Drivers are also subjected to this check at random. In general we control about ten bicycles with this technology. Our real goal is always to ensure that the winner is credible. With the magnetic tablet technology we can control over 200 bikes at the beginning of the race. During the Tour de France we carried out 2852 checks with the magnetometer and 164 X-ray checks. See press release.
TdS: When will the racing bikes be tested?
UCI:The magnetometer is sometimes used at the start and sometimes at the finish, while the X-rays are used exclusively at the finish.
TdS: How can the UCI ensure that the bikes tested are the same as those the cyclists have ridden during the race? That they haven’t been replaced?
UCI:The commissioner for video evidence, which was introduced in 2018, and all commissioners in the race have the whole top field in view. The suspicious exchange of bicycles is particularly monitored. Suspicious material can be marked so that a check can be carried out at the target.
TdS:What sanctions can be imposed in the event of infringements?
UCI:The following articles of the UCI regulations concern technological fraud:
Whoever evades a material check, does not allow it or obstructs the work of the commissioner or any other competent body carrying out a check will be punished as follows: Driver or other team members: suspension from one month to one year and/or a fine between CHF 1’000 and CHF 100’000. (…)
Technological fraud is a violation of Article 1.3.010. a (…)The presence of a bicycle that does not comply with the provisions of Article 1.3.010 during or on the sidelines of a cycling event constitutes a technological fraud on the part of the rider and the team or any other entity represented by a rider, whether or not the bicycle has been used during the competition.
The driver in question will be penalised as follows: disqualification, suspension of at least six months and a fine of between CHF 20,000 and CHF 200,000.
Except in exceptional cases, the driver’s team or any other unit represented by the driver will be penalised as follows: disqualification, suspension of at least six months and/or a fine between CHF 100’000 and CHF 1’000’000.
In addition, any act or omission by a person or entity subject to the UCI regulations which authorises, incites or facilitates a technological fraud, conceals it or intentionally assists the Commission in any other way in a technological fraud will be punished by a suspension of at least six months and a fine of between CHF 5,000 and CHF 200,000.
In exceptional cases, the amounts of the fines imposed may differ from the above limits.
TdS: Was there another case of “mechanical doping” in cycling that came to light – apart from the case of the female cyclist in the U23 cross world championship?
UCI:There has been no confirmed case since this event. The cases that went through the media were discovered at national events not managed by the UCI. This shows that the fight must also include the competitions of the lower levels. We are therefore considering whether we should provide the national associations with a technologically and economically mature method.
TdS: How did the drivers and teams react to your tests?
UCI:The riders and the teams are aware that it is a matter of protecting their credibility and the reputation of our sport. They are therefore cooperative in terms of strategy and resources.
TdS:Thank you very much for the presentation by Jean-Christophe Péraud.