Tour de France cyclists suspected of using hidden motors will be stopped even in the middle of a stage, UCI president Brian Cookson said on the eve of the race.
The International Cycling Union is deploying a magnetic resonance test and thermal cameras to catch any cheats.
“We can do the tests at the start, at the finish, we can take bikes during the race if there are any changes or so,” Cookson said. “It’s not just the bikes that the riders start off the race, we test the bikes on the cars, we test the bikes on the teams’ trucks as well.”
The race starts today at Mont-Saint-Michel.
The first suspicion of mechanical doping emerged in 2010 when Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara was forced to deny he won Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders with the help of an electric bike after a video appeared to show him pushing a button on the handlebars during both races. Bike checks were introduced, and have been carried out by the UCI at its events.
This year, a Belgian cyclist was caught using a motor on her bike at the cyclo-cross world championships.
“We will both target and be unpredictable,” Cookson said. “We are not going to test every bike and every team every day. We are 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 would not speculate on how widespread was mechanical doping.
“Clearly the technology exists, clearly it is a threat that we have to deal with, and absolutely we will do what we can to make sure we combat it effectively,” he said.
Femke Van den Driessche, the Belgian caught at the cyclo-cross worlds, was the first cyclist caught for mechanical doping in a major competition, and banned for six years.
“After that control in January it was obvious that it was not just a rumour and we needed to do something,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said. “It was perhaps a bit slow, but now we have a true arsenal of deterrent weapons.”
In April, French television programme Stade 2 claimed to have detected motors at two Italian races by using roadside thermal cameras. The UCI previously said its magnetic resistance test was more effective than “flawed” heat-seeking tests, which it said were only effective if bikes are filmed close up from motorcycles.
“To reassure authorities in France, the police and [Tour organisers] ASO, if we have to adopt a supplemental method then we will do that,” Cookson said. “We have a good system, we are happy to use an additional system from time to time as we will be using during the Tour.”
In terms of traditional doping controls, Cookson said it will be a “normal regime,” with the possibility of tests at night, as allowed by French law.
The French Anti-Doping Agency and the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation – an independent organisation mandated by the UCI – renewed their partnership for the Tour, with targeted tests being carried out throughout the three-week race. A total of 656 controls were performed during the 2015 Tour, including 482 blood tests and 174 urine tests.