In 2016, VJ Technologies was enlisted to help the UCI test for mechanical doping at the Tour de France. This test program was launched to address the prevailing issue of hidden motors in bikes, which became a reality when Femke Van den Driessche’s spare bike was found to have been enhanced at the world championships in 2016. Similarly to biological doping, mechanical doping threatens the credibility of cycling, and the UCI has taken a firm stand against it.
VJ Technologies provided the UCI with a mobile x-ray machine to test bikes more thoroughly than they ever were in the past. Previously, the UCI relied primarily on magnetic resonance tablets, which were criticized by many as not being 100% reliable.
VJ Technologies Steve Halliwell comments, “the UCI had been using iPad based magnetic sensors and thermal cameras to check for hidden motors before and during each race, but all are prone to false alarms or being unable to operate in wet weather. X-ray inspection provides an absolute and fool proof determination of hidden motors. The system is fully automatic and able to be operated by a single person, and takes only a few minutes, which is significantly less than the typical end of race drug tests which riders must take. So far no hidden motors have been discovered, a testament to the deterrence factor our new system provides.”
The x-ray unit was small, but was built to withstand the most difficult weather conditions that could arise during the Tour de France. It’s a sure way of detecting illegal components hidden in bikes, by being able to view an x-ray image of what is actually on the inside of the bikes, clearly differentiating between legal wires or electronic gear shifters and illicit propulsion devices. The French police unit even supplied a “Test Bicycle” in order to demonstrate how VJ Technologies’ x-ray machine could perform this mechanical doping check.
After crossing the finish line at the Tour de France, select bikes were tagged and taken to the x-ray machine for a short, yet comprehensive test, which took less time than typical biological doping tests. While no bikes were found to have concealed motors, the UCI’s efforts led to a new level of transparency in professional cycling.
New UCI President Brings About Evolution in Mechanical Doping Testing
In 2017, David Lappartient took over for former UCI president Brian Cookson. Lappartient campaigned on cleaning up cycling at all costs, promising a reliable way of identifying mechanical doping. Lappartient was aware of the 2016 test and requested that the UCI officially partner with VJ Technologies to expand their initial prototype into a resilient mobile platform.
This partnership resulted in VJ Technologies upgrading their original unit to a full mobile system of their mechanical doping x-ray machine for the 2017 Tour de France, and future races. The VJ Technologies engineering team worked diligently to build the system in just 10 weeks – the project was approved in January and delivered in mid-March. Although this system is new, it certainly meets the UCI’s expectations for a fool-proof mechanical doping check.
VJ Technologies has fully trained the UCI team and provides technical and support staff at races as part of the VJ Technologies Field Services unit. The upcoming Vuelta a Espana (beginning August 25th) will be the next race that the technology will be used for. So far, the results have proven extremely successful. No hidden motors were discovered in any of the bikes so far, but the technology promises a new level of security for the sport of cycling.
The VJ Technologies x-ray solution for the Tour de France was highlighted by ARD SPORTSCHAU, a prestigious sports program in Germany during the race. The reporter explains how after the race, the winner and 7 additional cyclists must have their bikes inspected. At the end of the 2018 tour, nearly every bike was checked at least once, the total inspection time taking approximately 2-4 minutes.
The response to VJ Technologies’ x-ray machine and Lappartient’s determination to stop mechanical doping has been overwhelmingly positive. The peloton has accepted the process as just another step they need to take for their racing careers and the mechanics have been extremely supportive of the process as well.
Lappartient has a lot to prove to the public, who still talks of possible cheating in past cycling races. The UCI has increased punishments for mechanical doping, with high fines and promises of a six months suspension for any rider found guilty. Lappartient is taking this issue very seriously and the widespread public support validates its importance.
VJ Technologies: The Leader in Innovative Field Inspections
VJ Technologies has helped fuel a revolution in cycling through the partnership with the UCI. The company’s more than 30 years of experience with in-the-field inspection services ranges from ground electrical feeders to large valve inspections for major oil refineries to on-site inspection services for world-leading brands. With VJ Technologies’ innovative solution to mechanical doping, everyone can rest assured that the winners of prestigious bike races will have earned their titles fairly.