The Times Intrigued With New (and Flimsy) Cycling Cheat


The New York Times sure is intrigued by the notion that Fabian Cancellara, one of the world’s strongest cyclists, may have concealed a tiny electric motor in his bicycle to help him win two of the sport’s most legendary races this spring.

Why is it we can’t help thinking of the Miami Herald questioning Funny Cide’s victory in the 2003 Kentucky Derby by means of a hidden metallic device that turned out to be a harmless bracelet?

You might remember that incident. Some freelancer wrote one of those incredibly embarrassing pieces that show up in a newspaper from time to time. Relying on a photograph taken from an odd angle, the Herald claimed that Funny Cide’s jockey, Jose Santos, was holding some kind of metallic object in his hand as the horse crossed the finish line. When he was asked about it, he said it was a “cue ring.”

This set off all sorts investigations, with folks making bizarre accusations that Santos’s “cue ring” had given him some kind of unfair advantage that helped him get Funny Cide first across the line.

Ultimately, it turned out that Santos had simply had a hard time saying “Q Ray,” the name for the metal bracelet he was wearing — the kind that supposedly provide pain relief to joints, at least to credulous morons who believe that kind of thing — and the photo had made it look like it was in his hand, not on his wrist.

Santos filed a $48 million libel suit against the Herald for implying that he’d somehow cheated, and later got paid an undisclosed settlement by the paper.

Now, the Times is reporting on questions about another pair of race results, this time in the world of cycling, and involving revelations that a company sells a tiny motor that can be concealed in a downtube to give a boost to pedaling.

We’ve seen the YouTube video that seems to impress the Times, and we have to say, we’re sensing another Jose Santos moment here.

First of all, in the video, we see retired racer Davide Cassani explaining how the motor works, demonstrating it with a push of a button hidden in a brake housing.

However, it isn’t really very impressive when a hidden motor is turning pedals and spinning a back wheel that is being held off the ground by Cassani.

The amount of energy needed to do that is really quite small.

But giving a 180-pound rider the torque to make a big acceleration up a steep hill like the Mur de Grammont in the Tour of Flanders? At 25 miles per hour? That’s an energy boost of another magnitude entirely.

The Times reports that the company that makes the motor, Gruber Assist, says its motor puts out 100 to 110 watts of energy, which could be a significant boost, the Times says. But when you see Cancellara pulling away from Tom Boonen on the Mur, you’re not seeing a few watts of flat-earth boosting, you’re seeing serious torque that isn’t coming from a tiny electric motor.

The other thing that strikes us about the video is that it pretends that the accelerations in Cancellara’s Roubaix and Flanders rides were somehow superhuman. They weren’t. We see those kinds of accelerations all the time in the sport. It’s maintaining a lead that is difficult — which even the Times story admits the motor can’t help with. But it is something that the world’s best time trialist — which Cancellara is — makes his specialty.

And finally, the piece of evidence that the video seems most impressed with is that Cancellara dared to change his hand position as his accelerations began.

Consider that for a moment. Cancellara shifted his hands while he was making explosive accelerations on cobblestones.

We’d like to see you try that without moving your hands.