There was an odd little statement that came out of the International Cycling Union (UCI) before the start of stage three of the Tour about the use of replacement bicycles throughout the race.
With everything else that has been going on, the statement disappeared into the background noise. There was, however, a firm statement that only replacement bikes that have come off the team car can replace a rider’s unit. Any transgression would result in disqualification. Stage three was over cobblestone roads with an established reputation for breaking bikes.
So, what has led to this renewed emphasis on using team bikes?
The power and ability of Fabian Cancellara, that’s what. More specifically, it was Cancellara’s stunning performances in the Tour of Flanders and the Paris Roubaix that had conspiracy theorists chattering.
In both races, Cancellara was able to put on an amazing burst of speed. On one occasion, he left Belgian Tom Boonen in his wake. On another occasion, he made Thor Hushovd look like a rank amateur by riding away from him over the cobblestones.
Both Boonen and Hushovd are exceptional cyclists. Boonen is the Belgian national champion and former world road-race champion. Hushovd is the Norwegian national road-race champion. Despite their pedigree, both were made to look very ordinary indeed by a man who is the undisputed king of the cobblestones.
There are those, however, who believe that Cancellara’s performances were just a little bit too good and came up with the rather marvellous theory that he has a “doped” bike with a hidden engine. While it sounds unlikely, there are numerous examples of how this has been done in a method that is almost completely undetectable.
There is a video that demonstrates how a motor and gear system can be hidden within the seat tube and crank housing and is capable of adding an extra 100 watts—or an extra 12 percent—to the rider’s power.
To add just that small additional bit of doubt, Cancellara changed bikes in both races shortly before he took off into the distance. Professional cycling has such a damaged reputation that people automatically assume the worst and rumours gain unwarranted attention.
The UCI, however, could not afford to dismiss the rumour. They have set in place a regime to test each of the bikes to ensure that they are motor-free which, by that action, adds credibility to the fact that an engined bike could have been used.
In the end, it seems extremely unlikely that someone would try to use a motor. It’s technically possible, but you would have to imagine that if they were caught, the stigma would be much worse than if a rider was caught using performance enhancing drugs.
Let’s hope that no one gets caught doing either.
It would be nice to have a fully clean race for a change.