A 73-year-old cycling club president put in a storming ride during a 10-kilometre-long hill climb event in the Ardèche to finish sixteenth, just three minutes down on the much younger winner – only to be almost immediately found guilty of mechanical doping by race organisers.
But the septuagenarian justified his use of a small motor, hidden in the hub of his rear wheel, on health grounds – he had suffered a cardiac arrest the year before – and insisted that the extra assistance ensured that he simply “made the most of the practice of cycling”.
Held on 28 August, the 12th edition of the Col du Bénas hill climb, a non-ranked event with no cash prize which takes place on the 10km, five percent average climb near Freyssenet in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France, attracted 112 participants, reports Le Dauphiné Libéré.
> Italian amateur accused of motor doping after winning iconic gran fondo
Many of those intrepid hill climbers were shocked when the 73-year-old rider, the president of a local cycling club, passed them on the mountain, accompanied by a rather suspicious whirring sound emanating from his back wheel.
After the rider crossed the line in sixteenth place, covering the almost 10 kilometres in 25 minutes and 31 seconds, just over three minutes off the winning time, a number of his fellow competitors expressed their concerns to the race organisers.
Though he initially denied cheating, the unnamed rider succumbed to the inevitable when the organisers inspected his modified bike, and claimed that he used the motor to simply allow him to compete in the wake of last year’s cardiac arrest, which severely impacted the keen cyclist’s fitness.
> Motor doping accusations reignite as footage of rapidly spinning wheel at Tour of Denmark surfaces
The 73-year-old also claimed that the motor was known to “everyone” before the race started and that the event’s guidelines did not strictly prohibit electric bikes (though the organisers later clarified that the rider could in fact have raced in the separate e-bike category).
“Everyone knew about it, several people saw my bike before the start, and told me it was fine, no one tried to stop me from taking off,” the rider told Le Dauphiné Libéré. “And now they crucify me!
“I made a mistake, I admit it, but I did it knowingly. In addition, the rules of the event do not mention the prohibition of the use of e-bikes.
“Besides, I prefer mechanical doping to pharmaceutical doping. I am 73-years-old, I try to make the most of the practice of cycling.”
In a statement, the event organisers responded to the rider’s disqualification by saying: “We were blown away. This is something that stains our race, which is first of all an appointment where the best can be measured against Sunday cyclists.
“There is no prize and nothing to be gained. It is incomprehensible that he has hidden from us that he was racing with an electric bike. If he had told us, we would have clearly made him race with a separate classification.”
> Ryder Hesjedal reacts to mechanical doping claims
The French pensioner isn’t the first rider to be accused of motor doping at an amateur event this summer.
In July, 27-year-old Stefano Stagni won the iconic Maratona dles Dolomites gran fondo, but was swiftly greeted with a chorus of cynicism and conspiracy theories after footage emerged of the Italian rider pushing a seemingly random spot on his handlebars before accelerating on the steep climb to the finish. His bike was then swiftly removed from the finish area as he was being interviewed by Rai, adding more fuel to the sceptics’ fire.
However, Stagni denied the accusations and – just like many of his professional counterparts when questioned about possible cheating – claimed the whole affair boiled down to one thing: jealousy.
“Italy is the country where those who arrive 200th think that the 199 in front of them have cheated, he said. “But I have a clear conscience, I pedal to have fun.”
> Mechanical doping: Six-year ban for Femke Van den Driessche
While the use of illicit mechanical assistance seems to exist on some level in amateur racing circles – especially in Italy where hidden motors have been uncovered at races in Lombardy and the Veneto in recent years – despite the UCI’s investment in the relevant technology and periodical bouts of social media innuendo, only one has been found in top-level competition.
That was in a bike prepared for the Belgian rider Femke Van den Driessche as she competed in the U23 women’s race at the cyclocross world championships at Zolder in 2015.
The 19-year-old – who had already been the subject of suspicion among fellow riders following strong performances in the World Cup earlier in the 2014/15 season – received a six-year ban from competition and was also fined 20,000 Swiss Francs.
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