Home > cycling, cyclocross, General rambling, women's cycling > On teenaged bike cheats

On teenaged bike cheats

Obviously, one of the biggest stories from the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships was Femke van den Driessche being caught with a motorised bike.  Of course she’s denying it (along the lines of “I sold the bike to a friend, who motorised it, and it weirdly got added to my bikes in the pits but it was nothing to do with me” – click the link, or if you understand Dutch, this video, or this video in English), and there’s a great couple of summaries about the case so far on Ella Cycling Tips and inrng, who sets out the rules and possible next steps.  I am gutted for all the u23 riders who rode their hearts out in a wonderful, historic race, the first time there’s been more than one category for the women riders.  But I’m also gutted, because when teenagers are done for doping or cheating, it always makes me really worry about them.

I should stress, I’m not saying teenagers aren’t culpable for their own actions, but I think about when I was 19, and passionate about achieving things, and made some of those mistakes that are part of growing up.  And I’m glad I was brought up to think for myself, and have an education in critical thinking – but I know that’s luck, too.  I can totally understand how kids fall under the sway of a charismatic coach or an overbearing parent – and I also can’t help remembering the stories of Genèvieve Jeanson and other riders, whose coaches doping them was just the tip of an awful iceberg.   I’m not saying that’s happening here at all, but that’s an extreme example of how sometimes riders who dope can also be victims.

I know there’s no clear cut-off line about when a teenager is an adult, but a lot of teenagers who’ve been riding since they were children have had more of a sheltered life than their peers, or have lived in more of a bubble of ambition, so I always hope they have people watching out for them.  And if they are caught for doping or cheating, I always hope there are proper, in-depth investigations into who has facilitated that – and extra-tough sanctions on the dodgy doctors, coaches, staff, and yes, parents.  Especially the kinds of parents who end up with one child banned for EPO and another caught with a motorised bike.  And I hope the cycling Federations can provide support for all riders, but especially the  young ones, who probably don’t know how to access things like counselling, or help dealing with their life being turned upside down.  If parents are involved, it is especially important, because it’s so much harder for a rider to admit things without feeling like they’ve betrayed their parent – or even recognise that by encouraging them to cheat, the parent has betrayed them.

Of course the rider should be punished for cheating, with sporting sanctions (and not just a 6 month ban, when that means “no racing in the off-season”), losing endorsements and so on, but they should be supported as a person too.  I hope the UCI, when it hands out the sanctions, also provides support links, and I hope Federations are pro-active about helping riders too.  Personally, I want longer sanctions, and cheating riders out of the sport – but I don’t want it to ruin a rider’s life, especially when they’re so young and they may feel like they’ve got nothing else.

It’s hard for me to be coherent about this.  So many conflicting emotions, like the disappointment it over-shadows the amazing races and being super-pleased it’s been caught, and will hopefully deter other riders from trying it.  And worry for this young girl, and frustration I’m talking about this rather than the fabulous, wonderful racing.  I’m going to go back and watch all the race highlights again, and focus on the positives.

Update:  In turns out ex-pro cyclist Marijn de Vries has written about worrying about Femke too, far more eloquently than me – you can read that here, in Dutch.

Update:  Cyclingnews report that bike manufacturer Wielier Triestina is threatening legal action against Femke, which is interesting, given the way a) I don’t think anyone thinks it’s to do with them, or even would have remembered what bike make it was before this, b) big bike manufacturers supply products to dopers, ex-dopers and teams with doping connections all the time, and never sue dopers when they’re caught, and most of all, c) what can suing a 19 year old female bike rider possibly prove?  How much money can a teenager have, even before any fine she has to pay to the UCI?  This would purely be about trying to destroy her life,  and that seems vengeful, and has no positive outcome at all.  It strikes me that it’s easier to go after a teenaged cyclocross rider than a big name road rider with the resources of his team behind him, and I don’t think this paints the company in any kind of good light.

  1. RT
    February 1, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    First, well done UCI for finding the abuse.
    Second, I do not think this is the worst form of cheating as Merkcx has pronounced.
    Third, maybe the drug restrictions are working on cheating in cycling?
    Everyone should chill a bit. Shouln’t this be looked on as better than putting drugs in young athletes? Plus, no one has proven that the device [whatever it is] provides an advantage.
    Love your blog. Thanks

    • Sarah Connolly
      February 1, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      I think the fact they’ve found it out (whether by a tip-off or by technology) is very good, and yeah, at least it’s not giving carcinogenic and other dangerous drugs to teenagers. I thought it was interesting she had a mechanical in the race – if that was because of a motor, it would be an even better deterrent to other people.

      And thanks for the kind words!

    February 1, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    I’m always amazed when it’s the ‘small fry’ that get busted. Be it in the pro peloton for EPO, or now for magic bikes, the tests always catch the no-name guys, it’s left to law enforcement to bring down the big players (think Lance et al).
    Personally I think this is the same, how comes no one is asking how a nineteen year old girl has got the funds and planning to pull something unique like this together? Surely it would have been perfected at a higher, more profitable level first? Especially after seeing the evidence that goes back to 2010 http://bikesy.co.uk/features/knowledge/thoughts-on-mechanical-doping/

    • Sarah Connolly
      February 1, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      I was saying on twitter yesterday that it’s pretty convenient that the women get tested before the elite men, whose teams have all the cash – because if anyone was thinking about using an electric bike on Sunday, they had a good warning (someone on twitter said it would have been interesting to see if any rider/mechanic turned white and ran to the phone/van when the news was announced!). I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, but it was the same a few years ago when the UCI sprang “surprise” bike weight tests the minute riders finished a women’s Giro stage, and kicked out Flavia Oliveira as a result, and shortly after they did the same thing in the TdF, but warning riders first (leading to some interesting bike changes in the last part of the stage). I think it’s lucky for the elite men that it wasn’t one of their guys.

      As to how a teenaged girl gets it… Her brother is on an EPO ban, so the family has cash for that, and my theory is that she was trialling it, and when his ban was over, he’d come back with the perfected version – but that’s purely speculation. It’s super-hard for her, because her dad immediately came out all guns blazing with their argument (It was an old frame she sold to a (male I think) friend, who coincidentally has the same sized frame as a teen girl, and had it loaded with the same components and wheels and female-friendly saddle and so on, and no one has any idea how it got mixed up with her race bikes) and so she has to go with that, or say it was all on her…

  3. Flahute
    February 2, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Pressure to win from Belgian helicopter cycling parents is insane. Borderline child abuse.

    • Sarah Connolly
      February 2, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      Yeah, tons of people are saying “she’s an adult, it’s all on her” as if she’s a 19 year old who’s had a year off and is in her 1st year of uni, rather than a hothoused young athlete whose brother is on an EPO ban. Those videos of her, she looks so broken.

    • February 2, 2016 at 10:21 pm

      Nothing ‘borderline’ about this at all, Flahute. IMVHO the parents should be banned from involvement in sport.

      I agree that the bike company’s move to sue this young woman is cynical and ill-advised.

      It’s easy to throw stones but too few people think of what someone like Femke must be going through. Regardless of her intent or involvement in this act of cheating, she will suffer far more from the smear than anything else. In that respect I feel terribly sorry for her. Yes what she did was wrong but let’s have some perspective – in the end it’s only a bloody bicycle race, not crime of the century!

      • Sarah Connolly
        February 2, 2016 at 10:33 pm

        The perspective thing is so interesting to me, because it’s a “good news” story – she didn’t finish the race, she didn’t use the bike, even if she had, her results haven’t been stellar, and absolutely she should be banned (& it might actually be better for her to get a life ban, if cycling is not something that makes her happy) but from some of the commentary I’ve seen it’s like she’s Lance, Vino and Ricco rolled into one, and she deserves to have her life completely burned down.

        The other thing that’s interesting is this is a story that’s got traction so far beyond our usual cycling media bubble, so the implications for her future are much bigger than the average “popped for EPO” rider we usually see. I’m guessing because it’s new, it’s about new tech and it’s a story that seems a bit of comedy, if you discount the human element – so the notoriety is going to be way out of proportion as it is – kind of “change your name, cut & dye your hair, move to Holland” kind of reaction.

  4. Marc De Ath
    • Sarah Connolly
      February 2, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      It just gets worse, doesn’t it? In terms of this poor kid’s life.

  5. Colesy
    February 3, 2016 at 3:00 am

    This is the same bike brand that got their knickers in a knot when Linda Villumsen rode an unmarked TT bike to the ITT gold medal last year instead of the UHC sponsors bike….Willier. This paints the brand in a more unflattering light.

    • Sarah Connolly
      February 3, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      Yeah – sponsoring Lampre was fine for them, but

  6. March 15, 2016 at 11:58 am

    I think the reason Wilier are suing is because clearly in the case of chemical doping it’s nothing to do with the bike/manufacturer. Here this isn’t necessarily the case so they are protecting themselves (or trying to). Every picture of Femke has had a Wilier bike in it.

    • Sarah Connolly
      March 15, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      I genuinely don’t know what they’d get from a 19 year old girl who’s got a huge fine from the UCI and has no chance of a career in cycling that she’s dedicated her teen years to. It looks completely petty, and doesn’t do anything to stop things – it’s massively disproportionate to any other kind of cheating, especially as she never even rode the bike she was caught with at Worlds, and even if she was on it all season, her palmares make it look like it wasn’t an especially effective form of cheating.

      (I do question why the likes of Valverde, Vinokourov & my-former-favourite Contador are allowed back into the sport with open arms, while FvdD must be destroyed utterly – as inrng said recently, it’s easy to go after FvdD as she has no resources, but had it been a top elite man caught first, the consequences would be much lower for them than they will be for her, as they can lawyer up, and hard: http://inrng.com/2016/02/the-grey-area/)

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