Conspiracy theorists in cycling seem to be as unrelenting as Birthers.
A few years back, the message boards lit up with speculation that the reason Fabian Cancellara was dominating the spring classics was that he had hidden a tiny electric motor in his seat tube. The claims were eventually dispelled, and we thought we'd never hear such absurdity again.
Alas, talk of motorized cheating resurfaced again this week after a video of Ryder Hesjedal crashing in the Vuelta a España went viral. The video shows Hesjedal in a group of three racers sliding out on a corner and, while trying to remount, having to chase his bike, which spins away from him, to a stop. Conspiracists pointed to the odd return of the bike as "proof" that Hesjedal was cheating by way of a motor in his bike.
People! Be reasonable.
First of all, this video is so short (11 seconds) and grainy that it would be difficult for most people to even tell it was Hesjedal who crashed. Condemning him—or any rider—based on this footage is as accurate as using the video, which only shows his back, to tell us the color of his eyes.
Second, consider the source: The accusations surfaced on the mountain bike website Dirt under the title, "Is this video proof that roadies really are the biggest cheating bastards ever?" I'll go out on a limb here and say whatever follows that headline is probably not going to be balanced or fair.
Moreover, if Hesjedal is such a big cheat, why does he continue to finish behind the leaders on every stage (92nd today)? And, despite his stated GC intentions before the race, why is he so far down on the standings (37th at over 30 minutes back)?
But most importantly, following the motor scandal with Cancellara, the UCI, who said that the accusations were absurd, still committed to checking bikes for any mechanical aids. At a grand tour like the Vuelta, bikes are checked by commissaires daily to stamp out any such cheating.
I understand that people might be skeptical of cycling given its doping history. But this sort of conjecture and innuendo isn't just ridiculous—it's unfair. Pro cyclists train like dogs, take serious bodily risks, and make huge personal sacrifices to put on a show for spectators. I'm not saying that they should be given a hall pass for the various forms of cheating that have been well documented. I am, however, saying that if you're one of those people who feel compelled to look for fault with everything cyclists do, perhaps you should just go watch another sport.
"I thought it was funny, at first. But now it's not so funny" said Jonathan Vaughters, director of Hesjedal's Garmin-Sharp team, when we reached out to him for comment. "[The accusations] are ridiculous. Any engineer or physicist will tell you that."