The concealed electric motor system and associated parts found in a bike belonging to Belgian racer Femke Van den Driessche at the 2016 Cyclo-cross World Championships in January has been revealed in a statement issued by the UCI on Tuesday.
Van den Driessche’s bike had a Vivax Assist electric motor concealed in its seat tube, which also contained the system’s battery. The button used to activate the motor was hidden underneath the bar tape and used a wireless Bluetooth system to communicate with the motor’s control unit.
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The UCI’s Disciplinary Commission have handed a six-year suspension and a CHF 20,000 (£14,000) fine to the 19-year-old Belgian after she was found guilty of ‘technological fraud’.
The Vivax system is commercially available from the Austrian company, which offers a variety of motors to fit mountain bikes, leisure bikes and road bikes.
Vivax claims that its system can provide pedalling assistance for 60-90 minutes, and up to 200 watts of power directly to the bottom bracket. When the motors is not in use, the rider can pedal normally with no added resistance. The sophisticated system costs €2,699 (£2,091), and Vivax claims it weighs under 2kg.
Vivax also produces a complete carbon-fibre road bike with the system already fitted (see video below), retailing for €5,649 (£4,375).
The UCI used a magnetic resonance scanner to detect the presence of the motor in Van den Driessche’s bike, which was located in the pit area during the under-23 women’s race.
The bike was made to look like a regular Wilier cyclo-cross bike. Wilier was quick to distance itself from the incident, saying that it only provides ‘off-the-shelf framesets’ to the Belgian team.
“The Wilier factory does not, and never has supplied bikes or frames fitted with a concealed motor, not ever,” said Wilier in a statement. “Any bikes fitted with such technology have been modified by third parties with no involvement from the Wilier factory.”
Van den Driessche is the only person named in the UCI Disciplinary Hearing’s statement. However, it is very likely that she would have had assistance in fitting such a specialist device.
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Soon after the incident hit the headlines, Van den Driessche and her family claimed that the bike was a friend’s, taken in error. Belgian former professional Nico Van Muylder claimed that the bike was his when confronted by media. This aspect of the case is not mentioned in the UCI disciplinary statement.
Rumours of electric motors being used in professional bike races have circulated for the past five years, but Van den Driessche’s was the first confirmed case. Since then, the UCI has stepped up the number of checks for concealed motors at events.
An investigation by French television’s Stade 2 and Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera claimed to find evidence of concealed motors during the Strade Bianche and Coppi e Bartali races in Italy. The investigators used thermal imaging cameras and allegedly detected unusual areas of high temperature in the lower seat-tubes of several riders’ bikes.