Amid a current doping controversy that could see Russia banned from the Rio games, a new breed of performance enhancing strategies is raising alarms.
The trend is called “mechanical doping,” and it refers to outfitting cyclists’ bikes with small motors and other hidden upgrades.
Earlier this year, Belgian cyclist Femke Van Den Driessche was caught with a small mechanical motor in her bike during the 2016 Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Cyclo-cross World Championships. Femke has since been banned from professional cycling for six years.
“I think when these rumors first started to surface, most normal people that it was fantastical, and nobody would stoop so low to cheat this way,” Brian Cookson, president of the UCI, told the AP. “We’ve seen allegations of fraud, and clearly this form of cheating is a possibility and we’re taking it very seriously.”
The UCI will work with the International Olympics Committee to test the bikes of competitors during the Rio Olympics in August. These tests will occur using software developed for iPads that will use magnetic fields to seek out illegal electronics hidden in the bike frames.
The UCI is only looking for tech similar to what was found in Femke’s bike, and won’t ban riders for common cycling technology like electronic shifting systems.
According to Cookson, if anyone is caught mechanical doping, “Your entire career is not only finished, everything you’ve achieved up until then is brought into question.”
The UCI president’s threat appears real considering the organization’s consequences: the minimum punishment for a caught cyclist includes a six-month ban and a fine up to $200,000. Whole offending teams can face disqualification, suspension and a maximum fine of a whopping $1 million.