CBS News: 12 riders used motorized bikes in the 2015 Tour

A "60 Minutes" report into mechanical doping claims a dozen riders had hidden motors in their bikes at the 2015 Tour de France.

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Team Sky, which has produced four of the past five Tour de France champions, and disgraced rider Lance Armstrong denied using secret motors in bikes, a CBS report said Sunday.

A segment on “60 Minutes” examined the possibility of motorized cheating in pro cycling with three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, admitted dope cheat Tyler Hamilton, and Hungarian designer Istvan Varjas, who makes hidden motors for bikes, saying they believe such cheating exists.

“I know the motor is still in the sport,” LeMond said in the report. “There’s always a few bad apples because it’s a lot of money.”

Jean Pierre Verdy, a former French Anti-Doping Agency testing director, told CBS he had been disturbed by speeds on mountain climbs, saying informants among riders and team managers told him about 12 riders used motors during the 2015 Tour de France.

“They are hurting their sport, but human nature is like that. Man has always tried to find that magic potion,” Verdy said.

Varjas said he told French police he sold bikes with secret motors to an unknown client just before the 2015 Tour, delivering the bikes to a locked storage room. He noted one motor design can be hidden inside the hub of the back wheel but would boost the normal wheel weight by about 800 grams (1.7 pounds).

Weighty 2015 Tour issue

In the 2015 Tour de France, bikes in the peloton were weighed before a time trial stage. CBS reported French authorities said Team Sky was the only squad with heavier bikes, each about 800 grams more.

“Weight is everything,” LeMond said. “If your bike weighs a kilo more, you would never race on it.”

Britain’s Chris Froome, riding for Sky, won the 2013, 2015, and 2016 Tour de France crowns. In 2015, he won the king of the mountains classification for his times in the difficult climbing stages that often prove decisive. No Tour winner since 1970 had won the mountain crown and the overall in the same year.

A Team Sky spokesman told CBS the team has never used mechanical assistance, saying time trial bikes might be heavier to allow for better aerodynamics and all Sky bikes were checked and cleared by the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Citing unnamed sources, CBS reported that the UCI would not allow French investigators in 2015 to remove Team Sky wheels and weigh them alone to determine whether they were enhanced.

LeMond said the UCI must do more to combat motorized cheating.

“This is fixable,” said LeMond, a three-time Tour de France champion. “I don’t trust it until they figure out how to take the motor out. I won’t trust any victories of the Tour de France.”

Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles from 1999-2005 after he admitted to doping during his career, told CBS through his lawyer he never used a motor. The CBS story claimed that Armstrong’s string of Tour wins began just after Varjas said he sold his first secret-motor bike to an anonymous purchaser with a promise not to make more or talk of it for 10 years.

“If they offer you $2 million to [not] do nothing, can you refuse it? I don’t think (so),” Varjas told CBS.

A ‘winning’ difference

Armstrong’s ex-teammate Hamilton said he never knew of any motors used by US Postal riders.

CBS purchased a 1999 U.S. Postal team bike and had Varjas install a motor, paying him $12,000 for parts and labor, and then had Hamilton ride it.

“It’s not super obvious,” he said. “I could see how teams are doing it.”

The silent motor made with military-grade metal is powered by a lithium battery and operated by a secret button, providing a limited power boost for 20 minutes.

“That’s the difference between winning and losing for sure,” Hamilton said. “For sure.”

A remote control can connect the motor to a heart rate monitor so the motor can start when a rider’s heart rate rises too high, Varjas said.

Varjas said he knew motors were being used by pro riders but said it’s not his problem, adding “If the money is big, why not?”

Varjas claimed Michele Ferrari, who is banned from cycling for his role in doping programs, has bought hidden-motor bikes in the past three years. Ferrari told CBS he tested one but never bought one from Varjas.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.