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Virtual Cycling and Real Cheating: Cracking Down on ‘Digital Doping’

The athletes — Lizi Duncombe of Britain and Shanni Berger of Israel — were accused of providing manipulated files.

Duncombe has denied cheating; instead, she wrote on Facebook, her bike computer ran out of battery during the race, which meant she could not find a complete race file to upload. “I had a file that looked like the warm-up, and it was the only thing I could find, so I sent it,’’ she wrote.

A friend offered to help her find a full file, she wrote, but Zwift disqualified her after recognizing that the first file was a warm-up file. The second file she uploaded ultimately seemed to be an incorrect file, too — at which point, she wrote, she was accused of tampering.

In Berger’s case, the initial problem was that she had linked the wrong device (her power meter, rather than her trainer) to her online race, Zwift wrote. This disqualified her. Berger’s team provided Zwift with additional data from the race to prove Berger’s results, but those files had been manipulated, Zwift concluded.

Berger said that she was still confused about the incident and that she did not intentionally commit any wrongdoing. “I was positive that I connected my trainer,” she said. “I don’t see any reason for me to connect my power meter. It doesn’t make any sense. I even did a test before and sent everything to the director.” As for the accusation that files were manipulated, she said she did not know: “I think now everything is possible, but I don’t want to blame anyone, and it’s not my place to say.”

Berger, 19, said she received numerous hate messages after being barred; she said she has suffered from anxiety and thoughts of self-harm. “Ms. Berger strongly and utterly denies all of Zwift’s accusations against her, and is examining the possibility of taking legal action against Zwift,” her lawyer, Iro Monitz, wrote in an email.

Zwift has stood by its decisions.

But the discussion in the cycling community over their cases and how to make the competitions fair and clear of manipulation has continued.

Maker, who writes the endurance sports technology blog, said: “There is zero reason technically that anybody, whether pro or amateur athletes, should have to have a secondary device on their handlebars recording data for backup. That should be handled in-game.”

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