A much-publicised investigation into allegations of mechanical doping seems to have raised more questions than answers after airing on US television.
Instigated by CBS current affairs program 60 Minutes, reporter Bill Whitaker spent months investigating whether motors have or are being used to assist riders in the pro peloton.
While much of the focus was on Hungarian inventor and engineer Istvan ‘Stefano’ Varjas, some of the most illuminating allegations were raised by a former senior officer of the French Anti-Doping Agency, and former professional rider Greg LeMond.
Jean-Pierre Verdy, a testing director who oversaw Tour de France anti-dopage operations for 20 years, claimed the following –
“It’s been the last three to four years when I was told about the use of the motors,” he said.
“And in 2014, they told me there are motors. And they told me, there’s a problem. By 2015, everyone was complaining and I said, something’s got to be done.”
Verdy told 60 Minutes he was disturbed by how fast some riders were climbing mountains. He said informants had told him ‘about 12 racers used motors in the 2015 Tour de France.’
The $2M Motor
‘Stefano’ Varjas claimed he was paid $US2m to keep quiet, for 10 years, about the sale of a concealable electric motor to a middle man acting on behalf of an anonymous buyer.
Later in the interview Varjas appeared to back Verdy’s claims when asked if he thought motors had been used in the pro peloton since 1998.
“I think, yes,” he said.
Enter Greg LeMond
CBS 60 Minutes completed their in-depth investigation by speaking with respected cycling commentator and three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond.
“I’ve watched, last couple years, and I’m going – I know the motor’s still in the sport,” LeMond said.
“You know it is still in the sport?” reporter Bill Whitaker asked.
“Yeah. There’s always a few bad apples and, because it’s a lotta money,” LeMond added.
He went on to suggest if a motor was not secretly hidden inside a frame, it may be fitted inside the rear hub or wheel.
Team Sky Mentioned
Investigative reporters then spoke with unnamed French authorities who said all bikes were weighed before a TT stage of the 2015 Tour de France. The CBS report included the line ‘Team Sky was the only team with bikes heavier than the rest – each bike weighed about 800 grams more.’
A spokesman for Team Sky told CBS ‘during a time trial stage bikes might be heavier to allow for better aerodynamic performance.’ The Team Sky spokesman said the team has never used mechanical assistance and the bikes were checked and cleared by the sport’s governing body.
Last Word To LeMond
“This is curable. This is fixable,” LeMond added.
“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.”