Here are the motor doping techniques Pogacar isn’t using and why
Given the sport’s agitated past, it is hardly surprising that prevailing performances attract more than merely developed eyebrows. Doping questions and accusations seem almost par for the course for the modern Tour de France commander.
Tadej Pogacar bulldozed the competition on itinerary to his second Tour title last week. At times the young Slovenian looked like he was on a go to the stores, while his closest contenders clambered for his back wheel.
The doping questions soon followed, but this year’s allegations took a brand-new twist: motor doping! CyclingTips Iain Treloar covered the subject and Pogacar’s response last week as the race participated its final weekend.
Now, almost a week after Pogacar was crowned champ for the second year in a row, questions about motor doping/ technological impostor remain. I decided to look into the potential forms of mechanical doping Pogacar could have employed, and assess each on its potential and likelihood.
Before getting started on the actual motors, let’s firstly assess the performance requirements of such a system to be effective in the Tour de France. If a 65 kg equestrian get only a 30 W( almost 0.5 w/ kg) increase for 30 times, that is the difference between good and all-time great for an already endowed athlete on one of the long mountain clambers of the Tour.
I have raced myself on an e-bike. The e-bike won!
Does it exist: YesAssistance: 100 -2 50 WDetectability: HighLikely use: Low to zero
Pogacar, or any other rider in the Tour de France, is certainly not using a standard e-bike as available to you or me.
Some of the latest e-bikes perform fantastically and do an excellent job of disguising the motor if you deem that important. But” off the shelf”, they carry a weight retribution( immediately noticeable to anyone who would lift the bike ), restriction assortment, and a( removable) speeding limiter.
I reviewed the HPS Domestique back in February, a road e-bike providing 200 W of sustained assistance from an 85 watt-hour battery and engine weighing only 1.5 kg. A larger battery is also available, necessitating the HPS can provide” up to 3 hour of assistance “.
The Domestique impressed me, and it’s one of the best examples of disguising an e-bike as a standard road bike, but its hidden secret wouldn’t pass the eye of a UCI commissaire.
HPS is serving the needs of the equestrian who is losing fitness or needs the assistance to stay with a group. What if the rider was already the best in the world and simply needed a little boost?
The smaller 30 W assistance needed here could also mean a much smaller and lighter battery, tipping this setup back towards possible.
Even still, the UCI electromagnetic resonance scanners and X-Ray testing used at the Tour mean detection of these systems is almost certain. As such it is unlikely any equestrian or crew would ever use a typical e-bike system. The UCI conducted more than 700 iPad electromagnetic resonance scanner tests at the Tour and 150 X-Ray( including load check) exams. The weight check is actually quite important here as, theoretically, any undetectable drive structure would still add significant weight to a bike; enough to raise suspicions in a world where squads are still trying to hit the 6.8 kg load limit on these decisive stages.
To quote a quote from Iain’s article “The UCI underlines that the post-stage testing pool ever includes the bike ridden by the winner of that day’s stage as well as the leader of the general classification. The remainder of the post-stage testing pool is decided on a two-pronged approach: bikes selected by the UCI based on its information and intelligence, and bikes gone by athletes selected for targeted anti-doping controls by the International Testing Agency( ITA ), the independent figure in charge of the UCI’s anti-doping activities.”
More information on how the UCI conducts these exams is available here.
How a proposed electromagnetic engine structure might work.
Does it exist: Yes, but merely in rollercoasters, high-speed trains, etc. Does it are identified in bikes: We don’t think soAssistance: UnknownDetectability: HighLikely use: Low to zero
The theory goes that with currents pulsated through electromagnets in the frame and with precisely placed magnets in the rim, it would be possible to create a wireless motor driving the back wheel.
Although there has never been an actual working modeling to the best of my knowledge, this motor hypothesi is not a brand-new. It was La Gazzetta dello Sport who firstly reported the possibility of wheel-based electromagnetic motors and CyclingTips’s own James Huang embraced electromagnetic wheel motors extensively style back in 2016.
The finding back then was that although theoretically possible, the cost of such a system attained it extremely unlikely.
Hub engines and Kinetic Energy Retention System( KERS)
Does it exist: Yes, in Formula 1Assistance: UnconfirmedDetectability: HighLikely use: Low to zero
E-bikes and magnetic engine accusations are so five to ten years ago! KERS is where it’s at in 2021.
According to Wikipedia,” a kinetic energy recovery system( KERS) is an automotive system for recovering a moving vehicle’s kinetic energy under braking. The recovered energy is presented in a reservoir( for example, a flywheel or high voltage batteries) for later apply under acceleration .”
So what has this got to do with cycling? This is the system described by anonymous riders to Pierre Carrey of Le Temps for the article that triggered this year’s accusations.
” We “re no longer” talking about a motor in the crankset or an electromagnet system in the rims of the wheels, but a device hidden in the hub ,” the rider apparently said.” We are likewise talking about a recuperator of the wheels. Energy via the brakes. Inertia is stored as in Formula 1.”
KERS sounds astonishing: enjoy a increase the whole way up a climb, and then recharge it going down the other side. But was impossible to condense such a system into a Tour de France-winning bike? One industry insider “ve been told”:
” KERS is a kinetic energy recovery system. That means you have to harvest and store vitality in a battery or gyro, keep it coming there( stored) until you want to deploy that energy utilizing electronics to manage the torque/ ability into a drive structure which will have to go through a gear box and final drive. And all this in a normal face standard backside hub. Good luck with that !”
The US Environmental Protection Agency, in working with students from the University of Michigan, developed this KERS-like hydraulic Regenerative Brake Launch Assist( RBLA) in 2012 😛 TAGEND
Others, including Tom Stanton, have added a flywheel to bike frames to store vitality for later apply.
Clearly, neither of these systems are subtle enough to meet Pogacar’s needs.
F1 vehicles use an electric motor connected to the gearbox to transmit power via gears, with the vitality stored in lithium batteries. I questioned another industry insider with a Formula 1 and cycling background if KERS could be the Slovenian’s secret recipe for success:
” I won’t say that this is impossible, but in terms of probable reasons for Pogacar’s performance, I think it ranks between sorcery and collaboration with extraterrestrial beings ,” they said.’ The reason for that is that storing energy requires physical space .”
That physical room is either a flywheel or batteries, both detectable by the UCI’s X-Ray experiments.
Still, theoretically, it is possible to create a Tour de France-suitable KERS hidden within a frame.
The battery necessitated is not all that exotic. To support 30 W for 30 minutes would require a 15 watt-hour battery( 30 watts/ 0.5 hours ). Theoretically, those so inclined could hide these much smaller batteries inside Di2 or EPS shifter batteries and maybe evade detection that way.
As we can see here, Shimano Di2 batteries contain 2 x 2.4 watt-hour batteries, approximately the size of an AA battery. Our theoretical 30 mins of thirty watts would require seven of these batteries, with a little extra leftover to ability the gear alterations.
Any UCI commissaire looking at a bicycle with an X-Ray would surely spot a battery three to four times( two internal batteries per suit) larger than the standard Di2 battery.
Theoretically( again ), a crew or rider this motivated to cheat and with enough budget could find much smaller batteries to provide the same power/ vitality storage. Both the monotone and mobile phone industries are using higher battery vitality densities by weight and sizing.
So if the battery is at least ” possible”, what about the motor and the presumably necessary gearbox?
Given that the UCI is already scanning frames for engines, anyone hoping to cheat this would likely need to turn to the hub to disguise the drive mechanism.
Est-ce que les bruits entendus par certains coureurs dans le peloton ressemblaient a ca? Peu probable ce modele est+ silencieux. Entierement plastique. Bruits= articles metalliques. Ici= 100/130 w avec recup energie. Autonomie 20/30 ’ 1/3 @LeTemps @lemondefr @francetvsport pic.twitter.com/ lPXHKZfCDg
— Thierry Vildary (@ thierryvildary) July 17, 2021
The rear hub with a 100 w engine pic.twitter.com/ 5yDGuUcWYb
— Marco Bonarrigo (@ cyclingpro) July 17, 2021
Videos and photos rose on Twitter last week backing the hub based engine conjecture, but as yet, such a system does not exist in the market.
Another photo of a claimed e-hub motor surfaced but featured a distinctively different hub eggshell to that considered to be in the video. Perhaps this suggests the existence of two versions of the hub motor or a system still in development.
Looking at Pogacar and his teammates’ bikes, their wheels feature the standard Campagnolo Bora hubs on both his rim brake and disc brake bikes. As the owner of a pair of Campagnolo Bora wheels and having serviced the hub several times, I don’t see any room to include a drive mechanism.
Pogacar on his standard-looking V3RS. Zoomed in, still not much to see. But of course any effective technological scam would need to be well hidden.Pogacar from another slant mid stage.Again not much to see, but importantly, those hubs look identical to the standard Campagnolo hubs. Pogacar, mid stage, from the drive side.Up-close photo of the drive back of Pogacar’s bike.One of Pogacar’s bikes pre final TT. It is unlikely this motorcycle is available in racing act given the lack of powermeter, but again everything looks perfectly standard. The number 4 Colnago of Davide Formolo. Again the hubs look very standard.
All that aside, 30 W engines are not unheard of; drones often use such engines but don’t need a gearbox. Similar engines with gearboxes do exist but start to add serious majority to the motor, stirring it even more challenging to hide.
Then there is the problem of wiring and controls. Even if self-control of the motor could be via a Bluetooth signal to the rider’s head unit, the wire from the battery( vitality storage) to the motor is unavoidable, difficult to hide, and would immediately heighten hunches in a UCI X-Ray.
Having researched the potential for motor doping, it is my opinion this form of cheating does not exist in the WorldTour peloton. Having likewise realise Pogacar’s bike up close at the Grand Depart in Brest( admittedly this could have been swapped before the race ), and again multiple times during the Tour, as he assaulted on mountain stages, and as he crossed the finish line on multiple stages, I ensure nothing to suggest any mechanical assistance.
That’s not to say this sort of cheating didn’t happen once upon a time, but the UCI checks now make it very unlikely.
Of course, cheaters have long relied on blind spots in testing process, e.g. micro-dosing. So one must always remain open to the idea that cheaters are one step ahead of the testers and benefitting from some undetectable relief, either mechanical or biological.
That said, bicycles are still such simple vehicles; it seems difficult to hide such devices well enough to evade UCI testing.
Furthermore, should a KERS-like system exist, its appreciate in the currently booming e-bike market could be colossal! It is very unlikely the company behind such a system would pass up on certain industry domination just so that Tadej Pogacar could win the Tour de France.
Lastly, together with the high risk of being caught, there is zero chance of deniability for the equestrian and team. How many convicted doping cheaters have we heard deny all accusations with all sorts of fanciful justifications as to how a test tested positive.
Although these explanations are quite often laughable, the stimulants cheat ever has some tier of deniability. These denials can sometimes leave just enough doubt that the cheater can always point to some doubt in their positive, return to the sport, and act like nothing ever happened.
One motorsport industry insider told me” a good defraud has a low-grade peril of being caught, and if catch, allows the perpetrator to cast doubt on the evidence or imply that it was an unintentional mistake. It goes without saying it is suicidal to cheat in a way that does not permit some grade of deniability .”
It seems unlikely the UCI would not spot any of the systems discussed here. Once discovered, the equestrian and crew, possibly even the frame and wheels manufacturer, would have zero room for deniability. As the same insider told me” A rider detected with a propulsion mechanism inside their bike would have their reputation destroyed in a far greater way than any biological doping would .”
All this is not to say we should be complacent about the dangers of technological hoax. And to be fair to the UCI, its testing process seem to ensure any known forms of motoring doping highly are easily detectable. However, as good as the testing appears to be, the UCI has only implemented at most two of the six steps Greg LeMond proposed are necessary in the fight against motor doping.
I’m sure we haven’t heard the last on the subject of motor doping in pro bicycle racing.
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