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According to a report in the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, the International Cycling Union is seeking a lifetime ban for Belgian cyclocross racer Femke Van den Driessche, who is accused of starting the under-23 women’s world championship race with a hidden motor in one of her pit bikes. UCI is reportedly also seeking to fine Van den Driessche approximately 50,000 euros.
UCI has responded to rumors of so-called “motorized doping” with labor-intensive manual bike checks at select races in the past, but used newly developed technology to check for suspicious bikes at the cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium, last month. Although the UCI has not revealed how the test was conducted, there has been speculation that its equipment can detect the magnetic field of a hidden motor.
According to the Nieuwsblad report, Van den Driessche and her family say they are ready and willing to accept responsibility for the bike’s presence at the race, but that a lifetime ban was too steep a price. “We want a fair chance, not a show trial,” said her lawyer Kristof De Saedeleer according to the report.
“We expected that the sanction would be more than the minimum requirement of a six-month suspension,” said De Saedeleer. “But this is very extreme. Knowing that for EPO you can get a maximum suspension of four years, this is a very serious demand, especially for a first offense.”
UCI officials, on the other hand, seem eager to stamp out motorized cheating as quickly as possible, and might make an example of Van den Driessche. Battered by years of doping scandals, there is little doubt that many in both national federations and the UCI would like to demonstrate that they consider this to be a serious matter and are willing to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure fairness in the sport.
“It’s clear that this technology, the testing, is working,” said UCI president Brian Cookson in a press conference about the case last month. “We are catching people. Yes, it gives out a very strong message. There were many people who laughed at the idea that people might be using electric motors in bike races. Now we see that there is a possibility, and that people may well have been doing it. I think it’s a major step forward in our efforts to protect the integrity of our sport. And the clear message is, ‘Whoever you are, whatever level you’re competing at, if you’re going to cheat in this way we now have the means to catch you, and you will be sanctioned.’”
According to Nieuwsblad, a hearing in the case is scheduled for next week at the UCI’s headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland.