UNIL & EPFL help the international cycling union combat technological fraud

Advances in performance of batteries and electric motors has provided new technological possibilities including drones and transport devices like hoverboards, e-bikes and e-scooters - technologies that by solving the door to door challenge may help a greener future where more people abandon cars to commute by public transport.

However, the possibility to hide performant motors in bicycles has led to a challenge for cycling as a sport. Since 2010 rumors and speculations have circulated of so called technological fraud in professional bicycle races, and in 2016 a bicycle with motor and battery hidden in the carbon fibre frame was discovered at the cyclo-cross world championships. In 2017 a rider was caught using a hidden motor at a French amateur race. All involved hope that these were isolated cases. But athletes and fans of the sport alike deserve certainty that outcomes of bicycle races are not influenced by this type of technological fraud - or as it has been coined “mechanical doping”.

To this end UCI revealed yesterday at Château de Pentes à Pregny-Chambésy an X-ray inspection unit designed to scan bicycles for hidden motors. This tool will be deployed at up to 50% of race-days at the top level of the sport - the UCI Pro-tour. EPFL’s Institute of physics and the REDs unit of UNIL Institute for Science in Sport assisted UCI in the realisation of this solution. Initial tests X-ray tests were performed at EPFL, and EPFL’s expertise in radiation safety was employed to ensure a completely save operation which has been approved by the national health authorities.

Prof. Henrik Ronnow from EPFL’s Institute of Physics took part in yesterday’s press conference and comments:
“While other tools including magnetic inspection and thermal imaging makes it very difficult for someone to hide a motor without being caught, X-ray inspection of bicycles at the arrival ensures without doubt that there is no motor, and it is this certainty both riders and fans of the sport need.
One downside highlighted by some of the journalists present is that the machine is heavy (1500kg), expensive and there is only one of them - meaning only the most important bicycle races can be controlled.
However, this is only the beginning. By using a special X-ray source that emit only 50 nano-second short pulses, we were in our laboratory able to design and construct a setup weighing less than 100kg, which can be transported in a regular car. Each national cycling federation could have such a setup to ensure efficient controls at all levels of the sport.”

This is one of many examples where EPFL and UNIL have lent their broad range of expertise to the benefit of sports. UNIL’s ISSUL host world leading experts in physiological aspects of sports, and EPFL’s engineering advances range from better skis over america’s cup winning sailing boats to advanced big data analyses of sports events.

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