Cancellara Conspiracy doubter

The Cancellara motor is in his legs

So it seems that the idea that Fabian Cancellara has used an electric motor to aid in winning Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders is so fantastical that we cannot dismiss the controversy. We originally linked to the issue in mere passing, but now even Cancellara and the UCI are making statements.

It has to be said that the claims are at least plausible, given that the technology for a nigh invisible electric-assist system exists. Marketed by a European company called Gruber, the system consists of an electric motor housed in a cylinder that inserts into the seat tube. A shaft extends into the bottom bracket shell where a gear engages onto a modified crank spindle.

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p> Gruber Assist.jpg

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p> There is some interesting video that samples an Italian former pro, who now works as a sports commentator, speculating about the use of electric motors in the pro peloton plus some footage of Cancellara’s hand movements allegedly activating the motor during his 2 biggest 2010 victories. A few people asked me if I think if he’s using…

First, the Gruber Assist unit is a 31.4mm in diameter cylinder. Simply put, Specialized road bikes including the SL and Roubaix series like what Cancellara rides for Saxo-Bank use 27.2mm seatposts. The seat tube flares out to a larger diameter as it descends to the BB shell, but even if the assist unit could fit in the seat tube, one could not install the unit without splitting the carbon monocoque structure open first. Even if it’s not the Gruber Assist, there would be similar problems with other conceivable systems.

Think about it; this would be a lot more difficult than a major league slugger “corking” a bat. Multiple skilled individuals would have to be involved in the deception including the rider, at least one team mechanic, and most likely several other professional craftmen to handle the fabrication and painting of the carbon bike frame around the assist unit. This isn’t like the days when the only variation in frame construction was whether one used Reynolds or Columbus tubing, nor are today’s bikes using aluminium tubing. Do you know why my frameshop can’t build a Specialized Roubaix frameset? Because Specialized owns the molds and won’t sell us the carbon subassemblies for their bikes. Do you think Specialized would give them to Saxo-Bank knowing the monumental fallout that would occur if one of their bikes was discovered with an electric motor?

Continuing onto the noise issue, other riders would be able to hear the device when in close proximity unless maybe the crowd noise or motorcycles were too loud. Granted, just such conditions existed in the Flanders when Fabian rolled over Boonen like it was nothing, but if another rider suspected Cancellara of cheating using a motor, why wouldn’t he raise a ruckus? This isn’t like doping for which a culture of silence has existed for a hundred years, neither is it likely that cheater’s bikes could stay ahead of detection methods for very long. Thus other riders couldn’t rationally be thinking that they should abstain from leveling accusations in case they might also one day resort to these devices. No, the other riders would have too much to gain by exposing the cheater and nothing to lose.

And how difficult would it be to detect these motors? You’d have to be daft to think that you could hide such a bike if someone was actually looking for it. The system weighs at least 900gr in the company literature, which in the reality outside of manufacturers’ claims probably means over a kilo with accessories and mounting. Add another kilo for the battery. I pick up a lot of bikes, and I can easily sense the difference of a kilo on bikes below 9kg. A skilled person should at least become suspicious of a heavy bike that should weigh less based on the component spec. I don’t know the exact rules of when UCI can inspect a bike, but I do know that UCI technical inspectors have a lot of power in the field. You don’t need to submit a bike to a certified laboratory using a rigid diagnostic protocol; you just pull a seat post out of the frame and look inside.

If I had to come up with a quick check method, I’d give each official a palm sized rare earth magnet. A modern ProTour bike has so little ferro-magnetic material in it besides the spokes, hub/pedal/crank axles, and the chain, but it’s hard to make an electric motor without something that would attract a magnet. A hand-held magnet that would stick to a carbon frame’s seat tube or down tube would be a dead giveaway.

Is it possible that an electric motor has been used in a ProTour race? Eh, I wouldn’t doubt it, but I can’t see it being a prevalent problem either now or in the future. Do I think Cancellara used one? No. Do I think that he’s racing clean otherwise? I’ve got no opinion on that.



14 Comments

I’m also a skeptic for the technical reasons you describe, and the fact that Cancellara really does kick that much ass has not been a secret for years.

I’ve seen the video, and I’m aware that Spartacus made two bike changes at Flanders, but I have the feeling that his “suspicious” behaviors would show up as mannerisms in situations where he wasn’t doing so well… if any such footage existed in this year’s spring classics. Maybe someone with OCD cares to go back and look at every little fidget Cancellara has made for the last year or so since Saxo replaced all their DA groups with Red.

http://velonews.competitor.com/2010/04/photos/2010-classics-bike-galleries_110824?album=32&gallery=294&pid=4297

The “set screw” that is needed appears to be missing as well if you look at the bike pictures.  Then again…this might not be “the” bike.  Those seat posts too appear to be 27.2 as well.

I’m pretty convinced this is pure hysterical accusation in the wake of the whole doping blow out.  That being said:

Much of this technical evidence for both sides is pure conjecture though.  What you’d need is a competent-ish engineer-type with access to a small machine shop to retrofit a BB shell and the crankset axel/arbor to enable power assist.

Providing there is a large (ie post diameter) pass through from seat post opening right down to the BB any bike should be retrofittable given the time and the money.

It’s honestly not even that difficult of a technical problem but it’ll cost you.  The modifications to the crankset arbor to accept a gear and a bore of part of the BB shell insert thingy are very minor.  Basing the possibility of cheating around whether or not the Gruber assist would fit is silly - its not a complex system to design.

The motor and transmission can actually be very small- indeed that aspect of the design is simple and not especially technically demanding the very modest RPM requirements because us humies don’t crank out huge cadences.

The big limiter is the power pack needed to put out sustained power, but that can be wired and hid in the top tube among other places- those power packs are only so bulky because all of the cells are laced together, they can always be strung out.

You can also build a system where the only ferro-magnetic material would be the electromagnets and make everything else out of alu.

This culture of cheating accusation is getting absolutely ridiculous though, next someone will be accused of taking the train (extra points if you get the reference!).

I noted this on Twitter, where we’re all getting a good laugh out of this, but underlying fact is nothing would surprise us in a sport that’s so corrupt. That this story would make mainstream news is a strong indication that the industry and athletes need to think about how corrupt we think they are. Like with Landis, they ignore it until something blows up and then circle the wagons and follow the same blame-the-accuser PR pattern. As Mark said, in this instance, who would’t out a motor user as so few would exist? V. breaking the code like Simoni et al.

Also I’ve got a bike with a motor assist, that’s specifically designed as a human/hybrid drivetrain. The motor gives you a boost up hills and to get started and its in the drivetrain and not the hub, like Bionix, et al. You’ll quickly tap that wattage out, even with 10 times the batteries as the Gruber shows. Henry said it best on Facebook:

>  That little Gruber (type) motor with light, compact batteries could only provide a couple hundred watts of power with minimal torque for a few minutes. That wouldn’t hurt but it also could never add a visible “boost” since Cancellara can already produce about 1000 watts for the duration of a short hill or escape and probably 400 watts for an hour or so.

> The premise is fun to think about but it’s not realistic; The weight of the system and risk of getting busted far exceed the potential benefits in a race such as Paris Roubaix. But for short flat time trial such as a pursuit…

I certainly [don’t agree with the UCI’s stupid statement](http://links.bikehugger.com/2010/05/cozy-beehive-cancellara-conspiracy.html) that “champion’s don’t take risks,” because recent history proves they do, but that seems implausible to get a 200 watt boost for a few minutes at the elite level of the sport.

There’s another reason why the Gruber Assist in particular would be difficult to apply to a Saxo-Bank Specialized Roubaix.  Does anyone care to guess? 

Here’s a hint: c-clips and Hirth

Hoping a German mag will do this with a Gruber and test it out. We’ve got a motor assisted bike here at Hugga HQ, but it’s for cargo and not cheating at Paris Roubaix.

And the UCI must’ve realized how stupid they sounded in that press conference cause now [they’re investigating](http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/cycling/news/story?id=5242937).

In even more UCI stupidity they are now worried about concealed motors that can be powered via solar pannels….

*facepalm*

Or that batteries are the size of a sugar pack—really?

I don’t understand how this motor would not oppose a resistance when not switched on since there is no clutch mechanism allowing to disengaged the shaft (the gear seems to be always engaged). It should be like pedaling with a dynamo on, you have to fight friction and the resistive inductive current, don’t you? Or do these motors oppose no resistance at all when not on?

@Pascal

Uhhh, if you open the circuit between battery and motor (ie with a switch), the electrical load drops to zero so all you have to contend with is the mechanical load from the motor elements (ie inertia of the rotor and losses from the gearing and bearings).

Those are minute for a small little system like that.

A smarter design would allow for a regenerative mode as well to recharge the pack when possible.

Yes, thanks for correcting me. No electrical load if the circuit is open.

Still wonder how “minute” the friction is within a small motor like that though. Differences between cyclist power outputs are also minute, so I am not sure such an electric motor would not be a serious handicap when not powered, just rotated.

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