Have secret motors been used to cheat in pro cycling?

Engineer who designed secret motors thinks cheating dates back to 1998

CBS News 60 Minutes

Could this small, nearly silent motor hava changed the outcome of pro cycling races?

The Hungarian designer of a secret bike motor tells 60 Minutes reporter Bill Whitaker he thinks motors have been used to cheat in pro cycling as far back as 1998. Istvan Varjas speaks to Whitaker for an upcoming 60 Minutes investigation into mechanical cheating in a sport already infamous for its doping scandals. One of the sport’s champions, three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, is convinced the motors are being used. He’s also in the 60 Minutes report, to be broadcast this coming Sunday, January 29 at 7 p.m. ET/PT. You can see a preview of the segment here.

CBS News 60 Minutes

Hungarian Istvan Varjas (L) speaks to Bill Whitaker for an upcoming 60 Minutes investigation into mechanical cheating in a sport already infamous for its doping scandals.

Varjas, a scientist and former cyclist, says he first designed a motor to fit inside a bike’s frame in 1998. He says a friend found an anonymous buyer who offered him nearly $2 million for it. Varjas says he took the money and agreed not to work on such motors, nor sell or speak of them, for 10 years. Asked whether he believes hidden motors like his have been used since then, he answers, “I think. Yes.”

Varjas claims it’s not his fault if pro cyclists ended up with his bike. “If a grandfather came and buy a bike and after it’s go to…his grandson who is racing, it’s not my problem,” he says. Asked whether he would sell a motor to a person who told him he was going to cheat with it, he replies with a little laugh, “If the money is big, why not?”

CBS News 60 Minutes

One system engaged the motor when a cyclists heart rate reached a certain level.

60 Minutes met Varjas in a Budapest bike shop where he demonstrated his motor designs and completed motorized bicycles that he sells to wealthy clients. He showed 60 Minutes how a secret switch can engage the hidden motors, or, in a more sophisticated model, they can be engaged when a racer’s heart rate peaks. He allowed Whitaker to test ride some of the bikes with hidden motors.

Suspicions of motor use in pro cycling have been around since at least 2010 when some felt Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara was racing at an unusually high speed and making odd hand motions that indicated the engagement of the hidden motor. Cancellara denied using a motor and is now retired from pro cycling. There have been other suspicious incidents and a young Belgian cyclocross racer was caught with a secret motor in early 2016. Jean-Pierre Verdy, former testing director of the French Anti-doping Agency, says the sport has a problem. “It’s been the last three to four years when I was told about the use of the motors,” Verdy tells 60 Minutes. “There’s a problem. By 2015, everyone was complaining and I said, ‘something’s got to be done.’”

CBS News 60 Minutes

Varjas says he was paid $2 million by a pro cyclist to keep quiet about his performance-enhancing invention.

LeMond, an outspoken advocate for drug testing, wants his former sport to do more testing for the motors, too. “This is curable. This is fixable. I don’t trust it until they figure out…how to– take the motor out. I won’t trust any victories of the Tour de France,” says LeMond.

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  • Conscience of a Conservative says:

    Unfortunately this 60 minutes segment will just be a marketing ploy to sell more of these devices in the U.S. Already seeing social media posts to that effect. Really sad.

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