By Julien Pretot
SAINT-LO, France, July 1 (Reuters) – Bikes could be checked for hidden motors during stages as part of plans to crack down on cheats in this year’s Tour de France, International Cycling Union (UCI) president Brian Cookson said on Friday.
Other moves include the possibility of night-time doping controls and the detection of micro doses of drugs, making the three-week race one of the most scrutinized ever sporting events.
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Bikes are usually tagged in the finish area before being checked for motors, but this year Tour stewards will have the option of acting during the stages.
“We target and it will be unpredictable. We are not going to test every bike every day, every team, we’re going to test a large number, probably do over 3,000 tests during the Tour de France, compared to 20 or 30 last year,” Cookson said in an interview. “We can do that at the start, at the finish, we can take bikes during the race if there are any changes, it’s not just the bikes that the riders start off the race with, we test the bikes on the cars, we test the bikes on the team trucks as well, and so far we had a very good cooperation from the teams because it is in the teams’ interest.”
Such checks would happen when a rider swaps bikes.
The UCI and Tour de France organizers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) said this week that they would use thermal cameras in addition to the magnetic resonance method to detect hidden motors.
In April, television station France 2, in collaboration with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, reported that hidden motors were used in the Strade Bianche one-day race and the Coppi e Bartali race in Italy this season.
The report used thermal imaging to show that five motors were hidden in the seat tube and two in the rear hub, but added they could not prove it beyond all reasonable doubt.
The UCI did not respond specifically to the allegation but said it were happy with its methods, which found one hidden motor this year in the bike of Belgian Femke Van den Driessche at the Under-23 cyclocross world championships.
The French WADA-accredited lab of Chatenay-Malabry will also be able to detect micro-doses of the banned blood-booster EPO (erythropoietin) for the first time and testers will be allowed to test between 11pm and 6 am, which was banned until this year.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)