Next Saturday July 2 is opening day of the 2016 Tour de France. Most fans look forward to following their favorite riders and the dramatic bicycle competition. This year, in addition to the bike racing drama, we’re all wondering who will be the first Tour de France rider to be caught mechanically doping.
In mechanical doping, the bike is outfitted with a battery-powered drive concealed inside the tubing and bottom bracket (or an electromagnetic system in the wheels) to deliver a boost. German company Vivax Assist and Italian maker dopedbikes are selling bikes with discreetly hidden motors. (Sadly, I’m not surprised there is a consumer market for bikes with concealed motors.)
Although there has been speculation about mechanical cheating for years, the mechanical doping era formally began this January when 19-year-old Belgian Femke Van den Driessche was busted at the Cyclo-cross World Championships. She has since been banned from racing for six years and fined 20,000 Swiss francs. She announced her retirement from professional cycling in March.
In partnership with a large French government agency that also conducts nuclear research, race officials have spent considerable time and treasure to develop complex and costly high-tech methods for detecting internal machinery.
Meanwhile, house cats are a common low-cost alternative that could prove to be a solution comparable to bomb-sniffing dogs.
Cat are well-known for their ability to emit cat-rays, a kind of feline x-ray vision, which enable them to see objects invisible to humans. Cats that appear to be chasing nothing are really chasing something. In fact, if you could only see it, poor human, you’d chase it too.
As fate would have it, my cat (and Facebook celebrity) Andy Schleck (the cat) has perfected his cat-ray skills and is ready to be deployed on the pro peloton. A shy, nervous, unassuming cat Andy looks like any other tabby. But when he is emitting cat-rays and spots a mechanical doper, he will attack or vomit.
On a 0 to 10 scale, Andy Schleck (the cat’s) cat rays have been certified to level 11:
As with past efforts to avoid detection the dopers are one step ahead of the officials. Although Andy Schleck (the cat) does not like catnip, he can be distracted by birds, rodents, random dustballs, and of course Atomic Dogs: