Belgian cyclocross racer Femke Van den Dreissche has withdrawn her defense in the world’s first motorized cheating case just a day before she was scheduled to stand before the UCI’s Disciplinary Commission, citing costs and the improbability of acquittal. She will retire from cyclocross racing and accept the UCI’s penalty.
“After consulting with lawyers and my family, I decided to discontinue my defense at the trial in Aigle,” the location of the UCI’s headquarters, she said in a statement. “I have decided to stop cyclocross.”
A bike with a motor-driven crankset was found in Van den Dreissche’s pit at the world cyclocross championships in January. She claimed it was an old bike, used by a friend. Her case was sent to the UCI’s disciplinary commission on February 10. The 19-year-old faced a suspension, possibly a lifetime ban, and a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 euro, under the UCI’s rules surrounding technological fraud.
“The costs of that meeting in Switzerland will be too high for me. The acquittal is impossible, that was my bike in pit zone,” she said.
UCI rules regarding motorized cheating, which it calls technological fraud, are strict. If non-compliant equipment is found near a team or race, “within or in the margins of a cycling competition,” as the UCI rule states, it qualifies as technological fraud. The rule’s language makes Van den Dreissche’s actual use of the bike irrelevant — simply because it was in her pit, her defense was unlikely to be successful.
“I thank all the people who supported me and still support me, my lawyers, friends and supporters. I want to continue my life in peace and serenity and hope that everyone will have some understanding for this and will respect this,” she said.
The Belgian Federation, which could also see punishment under the UCI’s rules since Van den Dreissche was racing under Belgian colors at worlds, has considered investing in a 40,000 euro motor-detection device.
In early March, Van den Dreissche’s lawyer indicated that the UCI is seeking a lifetime ban and a fine of 50,000 euro. “We want a fair chance, not a sham trial,” he said at the time.
The case is cycling’s first for technological fraud, though rumors of motorized impropriety have swirled for years.
Motors that drive the crankset are currently available, and have been proven to work in road bikes. The technology can add significant power. More advanced methods, including electromagnetic propulsion, are rumored to exist as well.
A video released in 2010 accused Fabian Cancellara of using a motor to win the Tour of Flanders. “It’s so stupid I’m speechless,” he told the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad at the time.