Jul 22, 2016 | By Alec

The Tour de France, the world’s most prestigious cycling event, is set to conclude on 24 July, and at the time of writing it seems as though British cyclist Chris Froome could win for the third time in four years. But this year’s event is also special for several other reasons. After years of prominent doping scandals, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is keen to host a Tour that is completely free of cheating. That’s why, alongside actual medical testing, they have been conducting thousands of tests for ‘technological doping’. To do so, all participants’ bikes are regularly scanned with a custom-made 3D scanner.

So far, the UCI has not revealed whether or not they have caught any forms of technological doping (despite completing more than 3,000 scans), and you might be wondering what the fuss is all about. But there is certainly a precedent. Earlier this year, officials at the cyclocross World Championships discovered that 19-year-old Belgian cyclist Femke Van den Driesshe was actually cycling with a miniscule motor and battery pack in the seating tube of her bike, which gave a small boost to her performance. It was controlled by a Bluetooth switch installed underneath the handlebar tape. Despite claiming that the bike wasn’t hers and that the motor was there without her knowledge, the young cyclist was stripped of all her titles, given a six-year ban and was handed a 20,000 CHF ($20,569 USD) fine.

After this shocking discovery, the UCI was very keen to prevent such a scandal to break out at the Tour De France – which is still reeling under the doping scandals of Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and others. With tests for performance-enhancing drugs being more strictly applied, the UCI is now thus targeting mechanical doping as well. “Since the beginning of the year, we are sending a clear message which is that there is literally no-where to hide for anyone foolish enough to attempt to cheat in this way,” said UCI President Brian Cookson. “A modified bike is extremely easy to detect with our scanners and we will continue to deploy them extensively throughout the Tour and the rest of the season.”

As UCI officials said at the beginning of the tour, up to 4,000 3D scans were planned, alongside other unpredictable testing protocols following tests that go back to the 2015 Tour. Previously this year, the UCI already tested thousands of bikes at many races in different disciplines and in different gender and age categories. Approximately 500 tests were conducted during the Tour de Suisse, while more than 2,000 took place during the Giro d'Italia – the second most important race on the cycling calendar.

So how do these tests take place? While the UCI obviously wants to keep some secrets, they say that teams, riders and organizers have all collaborated with the UCI to rule out cheating. “An effective testing protocol is one which is unpredictable so the UCI confirms that it will deploy additional methods of detection at the Tour to both assess their performance and to ensure a varied testing protocol,” they say. “It is clear that all stakeholders in cycling have a common interest to demonstrate that this sort of cheating has no place in the sport.”

It is understood that these tests rely on the completely portable ROMER Bike Measurement System 3D scanner. Developed in Switzerland by ROMER in collaboration with the UCI and the Laboratory of Polymer and Composite Technology, it makes quick validity checks possible. Relying on the InnovMetric‘s class-leading PolyWorks® software, it compares bike frames to a CAD model in a matter of minutes. “Just pass the scanner over the frame and the integrated laser scanner collects 3D points from the frame surface. The ease of movement of the ROMER Absolute Arm allows you to check even difficult to reach areas,” its designers say.

These 3D scanners have been extensively tested before use, alongside trials with thermal imaging, X-rays, and ultrasonic detection. “The ROMER Bike Measurement System is now the UCI’s approved instrument for checking bike frame legality, whatever the type, whatever the location,” its designers say. If any problems are detected, officials will dismantle the bike in question and inspect it themselves. At the request of the French government, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission is reportedly also using thermal cameras on the back of motorcycles.

With these nearly 4,000 tests, it is hoped that the 2016 Tour de France will be known for its sporting achievements, rather than for murkier things. It can also be expected to set a precedent for cycling, as the UCI is already working to apply the 3D scanners throughout the professional cycling calendar. Clearly, the miniaturization of technology has its disadvantages as well.

 

 

Posted in 3D Scanning

 

 

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