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Thermal Camera Disqualifies Italian Cyclist for Mechanical Doping

By Frantiska Blazkova

Since Femke Van den Driessche was caught in the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships in the notorious first confirmed case of mechanical doping, fined and banned from the UCI for six years, this issue has been the talk of the cycling town for a while. Another instant emerged just recently at an amateur race in Bedizzole, Italy, on July 29th 2017. Alessandro Andreoli, a 53-year-old Italian amateur cyclist, attended the event organized by Centro Sportivo Italiano, which is an amateur sports body affiliated to the Italian Olympic Committee, and ended placed third in the race. After he crossed the finish line, his bike and Andreoli himself was brought in for questioning by the race commissaries.

The vice-president of the CSI for the province of Brescia, Emiliano Scalfi, told La Gazzetta dello Sport, an Italian sports newspaper, that he received a sound tip and decided to act on it. “We had some precise information and we proceeded accordingly.” They deployed a heat gun to measure the temperature of Andreoli’s bicycle during the race and what they found looked like his seat tube was set “on fire”. The committee then asked for the bike, an alleged Argon 18 used by the Astana team, to be brought in for inspection.

Naturally, the rider wasn’t too excited about this development and proceeded to claim that he wasn’t using any mechanical boost and that he was simply training hard and keeping an eye on his nutrition, which resulted into him placing third. He then continued to claim that the anonymous tipper was just jealous of his lifestyle and salary. Only when pressed with disassembling the bike, he budged. “We invited the rider to go with two commissaries to an authorised centre to check the bike, but at that point, he admitted his guilt,” Scalfi said. “Inside the bike, he had a motor.”

La Gazzetta dello Sport then asked Andreoli to comment on the accusations and denied confessing to using mechanical doping. “I had to go to a wedding and it was getting late. I didn’t admit anything. They looked for the buttons but didn’t find anything, the only buttons I have are to change gears.” He claimed that he bought the bike on the road from a stranger in Tuscany and that he no longer has any way to contact him and accused the committee for twisting his words.

While Andreoli is facing a disciplinary hearing and a long ban from racing, it’s not the only inconvenience that might be coming his way. It was later revealed that his supposed Argon 18 was studied by the brand’s Canadian manufacturer and confirmed to be a counterfeit, fitted with Argon 18 decals. There’s still no direct proof that Andreoli was behind producing the rip-off or that he knew what he’s buying but Argon 18 disclosed that it would take legal action. To top things off, Andreoli’s local team has denied any involvement and has suggested it will also take legal action.

While mechanical doping is still rare, some sources suggest that the method of checking for hidden motors is not thorough and efficient enough yet so there already might be some cases, even in the professional environment, that have slipped under the radar.