The Hungarian designer of a secret bike motor tells Bill Whitaker he thinks the motors have been used to cheat in professional cycling as far back as 1998. Istvan Varjas speaks to Whitaker for a “60 Minutes” investigation into mechanical cheating in a sport already infamous for its doping scandals. One of the sport’s champions, three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, is convinced the motors are being used. He’s also in the “60 Minutes” report, to be broadcast tonight, Jan. 29 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Varjas, a scientist and former cyclist, says he first designed a motor to fit inside a bike’s frame in 1998. He says a friend found an anonymous buyer who offered him nearly $2 million for it. Varjas says he took the money and agreed not to work on such motors, nor sell or speak of them, for 10 years. Asked whether he believes hidden motors like his have been used since then, he answers, “I think. Yes.”
Varjas claims it’s not his fault if professional cyclists ended up with his bike. “If a grandfather came and bought a bike and after it went to…his grandson who is racing, it’s not my problem,” he says. Asked whether he would sell a motor to a person who told him he was going to cheat with it, he replies with a little laugh, “If the money is big, why not?”
“60 Minutes” met Varjas in a Budapest bike shop where he demonstrated his motor designs and completed motorized bicycles that he sells to wealthy clients. He showed “60 Minutes” how a secret switch can engage the hidden motors or, in a more sophisticated model, be engaged when a racer’s heart rate peaks. He allowed Whitaker to test ride some of the bikes with hidden motors.
The first time it was publicly suspected a motor was being used in professional cycling was in 2010 when an Italian rider raced at an unusually high speed. That rider denied using a motor. There have been other suspicious incidents, and one rider was caught with a secret motor in 2016. Jean Pierre Verdy, former testing director of the French Anti-doping Agency, says the sport has a problem. “It’s been the last three to four years when I was told about the use of the motors,” Verdy tells Whitaker. “There’s a problem. By 2015, everyone was complaining and I said, ‘Something’s got to be done.’”
LeMond, an outspoken advocate for drug testing, wants his former sport to do more testing for the motors, too. “This is curable. This is fixable. I don’t trust it until they figure out…how to take the motor out. I won’t trust any victories of the Tour de France,” says LeMond.
“60 Minutes,” the most successful television broadcast in history, began its 47th season in September 2016. Offering hard-hitting investigative reports, interviews, feature segments and profiles of people in the news, the broadcast begun in 1968 is still a hit in 2015, making Nielsen’s Top 10 list nine consecutive weeks in the fall of 2014.
Over the 2013-2014 season, “60 Minutes” continued its dominance as the number-one news program, drawing an average of 12.2 million viewers per week – almost twice the audience of its nearest network news magazine competitor and three million viewers ahead of the most-watched daily network evening news broadcast. The average audience for a “60 Minutes” broadcast still dwarfs the biggest audiences drawn by cable news programs.
Anderson Cooper, Steve Kroft, Sanjay Gupta; Lara Logan, Scott Pelley, Morley Safer, Lesley Stahl and Bill Whitaker all serve as correspondents and contributing correspondents.
The above press release was issued by CBS.