In the first confirmed case of mechanical doping in the sport, Van den Driessche, 19, was accused of concealing a motor in her racing bike during the under-23 women’s race at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Zolder on 30 January.
“The bike concerned was scanned using the new magnetic resonance testing deployed this year by the UCI,” a statement by the UCI read. “This detected the motor whilst the bike was in the rider’s pit area. The motor was a Vivax which was concealed along with a battery in the seat-tube. It was controlled by a Bluetooth switch installed underneath the handlebar tape.”
Van den Driessche was found guilty of “technological fraud” and has been suspended for six years in a ban backdated to 11 October 2015. All of her results since that date have been disqualified and Van der Driessche has been ordered to pay a fine of 20,000 Swiss francs and to return all medals and prize-monies received in connection with the disqualified competitions.
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The backdated nature of the ban suggests that the UCI were suitably convinced that Van den Driessche had been using the illegal equipment throughout the season - although cycling's world governing body made no reference to this in its statement.
Van den Driessche has always denied suggestions she had deliberately cheated, claiming the bike belonged to a friend of hers. On 14 March 2016 Van den Driessche announced she would not be defending herself in front of the UCI disciplinary committee, citing prohibitive costs and the impossibility of getting a fair trial after already being convicted in the court of public opinion. She also announced her immediate retirement from cycling.
Femke Van den Driessche races during the women's U23 race at the world championships cyclocross
Image credit: AFP
Van der Driessche was national Cyclo-cross champion in 2011 and mountain bike champion in 2013 before becoming European Cyclo-cross champion in the under-23 category in 2015. Two months later she became Belgian Cyclo-cross champion in the same category weeks before the allegations of mechanical doping surfaced during the 2016 Cyclo-cross World Championships.
UCI President Brian Cookson said: "We have invested considerable resources in developing this new and highly effective scanning technology and also in strengthening the sanctions applicable to anyone found cheating in this way. This case is a major victory for the UCI and all those fans, riders and teams who want to be assured that we will keep this form of cheating out of our sport."
Van der Driessche's saction has been met with raised eyebrows by many of the cycling community especially in the light of the UCI not issuing any penalty to her Belgian team - the suggestion being that the 19-year-old acted alone and without any aid from mechanics or team management.
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