Today, the UCI is faced with a task to protect its image. Its main official in charge of stopping electric motor cheating warned a bicycle supplier that checks would be carried out in last year’s Tour de France, says a report by France’s Stade 2 television show.
In a programme broadcast last night, Stade 2 released a chain of emails that showed contact between the UCI’s Mark Barfield and Stefano Varjas, a Hungarian engineer who has designed concealed motors for use in road bikes.
“The UCI has full confidence in its staff employed in this area,” the governing body said in a statement today. “It will investigate whether emails sent in 2015 to an external consultant were passed on to a third party and used in a way that no-one intended.”
Stade 2 showed Barfield emailed Harry Gibbings, director of e-bike maker Typhoon, about police plans to investigate suspected motorised cheating in the 2015 Tour de France.
“Hi. Do you have a phone number I can [call] you on straight away?” read the message to Gibbings on July 11. “I’m sitting with French police who believe an engineer ‘Hungarian’ is visiting TDF today to sell a bike and visit teams, could this be your guy???”
Gibbings then wrote to Varjas: “The French police have opened a file on ‘motor doping’ and will prosecute under ‘anti cheating’ laws. I have given no information on Stefano or any of the customers from the past only saying that Typhoon were happy to help in anyway possible to try and detect a similar system in racing bikes.
“My understanding is that I will be contacted again in the future. Nobody has asked me for the names of Typhoon’s engineers yet. I don’t need to tell you guys this is a very big and serious mess. As I get anymore information I will pass along to you.”
Barfield and Gibbings confirmed the emails were theirs in Stade 2’s show. Stade 2 suggests that the UCI tipped-off one of the main motor suppliers of an ongoing police investigation. Barfield said that he was helping French police by contacting Gibbings, but the police said otherwise.
Watch: What is it like to ride an e-bike
Typhoon is not part of the UCI, but the body used its e-bikes in May as part of a demonstration on how it carries out motorised checks using its tablet scanner. The demonstration was part of the UCI’s response to another Stade 2 show that used a thermal video camera to capture a reported seven professional cyclists using motors. The UCI dismissed the report and the camera technology.
The report overnight and the refusal to also use thermal cameras appears to have further deepened the divide between the UCI and ASO, the Tour and world’s biggest race organiser.
“The sporting movement needs to be reformed as a whole,” Tour de France Director Christian Prudhomme said. “We need a body independent of the federations to carry out the controls.”