Femke Van der Driessche

Mechanical Fraud – the fallout continues. With Parakeets.

Well, it’s not even been a week since the original story broke, and yet more embellishments and wrinkles are emerging. We can’t use the phrase ‘motor doping’ now by the way; the UCI much prefer ‘mechanical fraud’, so mechanical fraud it is. But whatever viewpoint you take, the harder you look, the more inconsistencies there seem to be, and the further down the rabbit hole you find yourself.

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Femke Van den Driessche – pic from Kleur Op Maat cycling team’s Facebook page

What gives? Well, as we reported here, U23 rider (and one-time favourite) Femke Van den Driessche’s spare bike was found to have wires sticking out of the seatpost, and further investigation yielded a concealed motor. For the full skinny, read this.

Of course, then the fun *really* started… everyone starts flinging metaphorical poo at everyone else, and eventually, someone’s going to hit a fan.

Kleur Op Maat cycling team has distanced itself as far away from its team rider as it can, and is quoted on its Facebook page thusly: “We are literally shocked, as the main technical partner, we want to distance from this act absolutely contrary to the basic values of our company, and with the principles of each sporting competition.

“Really unacceptable that the photos of our bike is making the rounds of the international media due to this unpleasant fact. We work every day to bring worldwide the quality of our products and when we know that a Wilier Triestina’s bike is meanly tampered we’re very sad.

“Our Company will take legal action against the athlete and against any responsible for this very serious matter, in order to safeguard the good name and image of the company, marked by professionalism and seriousness in 110 years of history”.

Yep, that’s a threat to sue. One of the key differences from a moral and philosophical point of view between ‘doping’ a la Lance Armstrong and ‘mechanical fraud’ in this instance (and presumably why the UCI is requesting we don’t use the word ‘doping’) is the assumption that doping is the responsibility of the individual, and fraud can be held to collective responsibility. In any event, it seems unlikely that a 19-year old rider would have the technological nous to alter her bike in any event, without at least some sort of assistance. The truth will out, we suppose. Or at least a weird wacky version of it.

Greg Lemond’s 6-month old video has re-emerged into the spotlight, in which he demonstrates the feasibility of cheating in such an electrified manner, on one of his own bikes. Quite why he’d show this on a bike bearing his own name is frankly beyond us, but it’s yet more insight into how such frauds may be carried out:

And yes, as expected, the Honourable Lord Eeyore of Wiggins has weighed in, talking to Sky Sports with a typically optimistic assessment that it’s probably been going on for ages (linked article in Dutch). Regrettably, as usual he’s probably right, though.

I mean look at Fabian. Cancellara has been the target of suspicion in the past, of course. And naturally, the media has been beating a path to his door for a quote – and equally naturally, he’s remaining schtum. As you would. Let’s be honest, whatever happens he’s tainted by association. As likely as his total innocence is, there are always going to be swivel-eyed loons on the look out for an errant hand-placement or an uncanny climbing performance, and utterances either pro- or against Famke will be used against him, whatever happens.

Former Belgian cyclocross star Ben Berden (himself an ex EPO bustee – if that’s the word) has swiftly leapt off the fence, though. He took to Facebook on Sunday, getting to the heart of the matter, taking a position that Van den Driessche might be innocent – sort of. His rather direct statement reads thusly: “A 19 year old girl will not have the idea to have a motor in here (sic) bike. The peace (sic) of shit person who did this. Speak up. Take responsibility. U asshole”. Suggesting that either a) she’s been stitched up like a kipper without her knowledge, or b) she’s been stitched up like a kipper. But either way, kippers are on the menu. Possibly closely followed by porridge, and maybe a nice long stretch in chokey (to use the vernacular of seventies UK gangster TV shows).

We watched the race again last night, and it’s hard to see a point at which anyone swapped bikes, as it was so wet that nothing stuck; and all the bikes kept on working. (Apart from Driessche’s. Um.) So what we don’t think is that anyone’s claiming she actually used the bike (feel free to disagree in the comments)…

And recently, even more mentalness has emerged. We already knew that her brother is currently serving a suspension because of EPO use, and her dad recently filed for bankrupcy.

But (are you ready for this?) her dad and her brother have also been convicted or accused (accounts vary) of “bird theft.” Something to do with parakeets at any rate. And (given that Driessche is claiming the bike isn’t hers, and was taken into her pits by accident) the alleged ‘real’ owner of the bike has come forward – it’s a chip-shop owner. Of course. Here’s a translated quote from that link:

 “The 39-year-old from Muylder is not a blank slate because he was indicted in 2004 for having beaten a fellow rider in the face. Eighteen months ago he hung his bike on the willows, today he is active in the sport.”

Sounds like a lovely chap.

It’s all descending into the sort of unpleasant thing that just begs to be followed around by someone parping a sousaphone.

And naturally, given the preposterousness of what’s going on, the cranks (if you’ll pardon the “pun”) have come out of the woodwork. Say hello to the conspiracies:

One we’ve heard suggests that perhaps Driessche’s dad was given a large brown envelope in order to take the bike into the pits to see if it would be detected – Knowing that the UCI had developed a test, someone somewhere wanted to find out if it worked – apparently it does.

Now as it’s being reported her dad has filed for bankruptcy, perhaps it’s not such a daft conspiracy idea after all?

No, it’s pretty daft. I don’t think even the most ravening parakeet thief would incriminate his own daughter to that extent.

Perhaps a slightly (slightly) more plausible one is that the UCI was actually planning on finding someone at this race, and it would be someone from a demographic that wouldn’t do much…damage to the sport.

However…apparently the technical director (THE technical director) for the UCI wasn’t expecting it. In fact, he was looking for a bike box to send the bike back to Switzerland because they didn’t have any way to get the bike back there. Which is when the whole thing came to light.

So here we are. There’s almost certainly more mental to come, from some unlikely quarters. Has the sport been damaged? Will Belgian chip-shops ever recover? Is this too ridiculous for words? Will there be a made-for-TV movie in the very near future? It seems inevitable at this rate. We wait with bated breath to see what will possibly happen next…

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