Tara Gins, a retired professional rider from Belgium, has alleged that a verbal agreement between her and a men’s amateur domestic team to become a directeur sportif was withdrawn due to images taken of her as part of a previously paid Playboy modeling shoot or a Belgian calendar.
Gins, 30, who rode in the women’s pro ranks between 2016 and 2020, and became the race director for the women’s version of Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne, also alleges that she was assaulted in the past by men within cycling teams. She took to Instagram to tell her story, and later spoke to Cyclingnews for an exclusive interview.
Gins would not name either the team that withdrew the verbal agreement or the individuals who acted inappropriately towards her, but she detailed some of the abuse she had faced over the years and highlighted the double standards that women often face when trying to progress within the sport.
“I had a verbal agreement to start working for a team as a sports director this year. A men’s team, where I would work with the young athletes and the elites,” Gins wrote on her Instagram page.
“That was something that I was really looking forward to because that is the direction that I want to go in. But apparently, someone has made a problem with a photo of me. I don’t mind now that the job has been canceled. It’s probably for the best. I don’t want to work with people who don’t see my capabilities and just walk with the herd.”
On the photos that may have cost her a job in 2021, she says: “Those were photos that don't harm anyone. Apparently, these are now too inappropriate to work with riders. Apparently, a photo is more important than capabilities or experience. I want to thank everyone for the statements of support and leave this behind as soon as possible.
“In all the years that I have raced, I have already experienced so many negative things with team leaders or soigneurs. I was literally assaulted. Once a mechanic crept into the shower with me after a workout. I was once kissed by someone on the staff, and I had to push that person away from me. I once had very inappropriate comments from team managers about how I looked, about my weight, what they wouldn’t do to me if I looked different. I had a manager come in when I was getting a massage to say how horny I looked.
“I've always argued against that, I've always pushed it off. But all of the things I've been through make this even more frustrating. I have now stopped racing and want to do my own things, get opportunities. And then they are taken back by those jerks, sorry so to speak, who have a double standard. Apparently, as a man, you can do a little more in the world.”
In 2019, Gins and four riders who wished to remain anonymous wrote an open letter describing their experiences to the Dutch news outlet WielerFlits.
Gins rode for the Heath Mate women’s team in 2018. At least ten riders detailed a culture of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse at the team. Patrick Van Gansen, the manager of the team was found guilty of ethics violations in 2020.
Tara Gins: Sunday, January 24, 2021 (Interview by Kirsten Frattini)
Cyclingnews: Could you tell me the name of the team?
Tara Gins: No, I chose not to because some of the riders contacted me to say that they did not agree with what happened, and that they wanted to work with me, but they have also asked me to please not mention the team because they were scared that sponsors would drop out and they really want to race. I also don’t want to break up a complete team and cause riders to not be able to race this year.
CN: Is this a UCI or non-UCI team?
TG: It’s a club team for under-23 riders in Belgium.
CN: Did you have a contract?
TG: It was a verbal agreement. In Belgium, if it is just a club team, and not professional, then you have a verbal agreement and there isn’t really a contract needed.
CN: What was the verbal agreement?
TG: There was a manager, who was also the first director, and then there was a second director, and so I would have been the third director. We would split the races into three and I would have been one of the directors.
CN: When did the team verbally agree to this position?
TG: In November 2020 … and to being as a third director for the 2021 season.
CN: When did they tell you that you would no longer be a director?
TG: Yesterday [Saturday, January 23, 2021]. They called me.
CN: What was the reason or the grounds of your removal from the team?
TG: He started the conversation by saying that he was breaking off the commitment that we had because someone on the team, a staff member came across pictures of me. That person sent the pictures in a group chat to the other staff members. Apparently, it was a chat that I was not included in. Someone must have threatened the manager to send those pictures to one of the sponsors because that person has I don’t know what kind of relationship with the sponsor.
CN: The team directly told you that the reason you were not going to be a third director was specifically due to those images?
CN: When were the images taken?
TG: I’m not 100 per cent sure what photos they are talking about. In May last year, I did a photoshoot for Playboy and then two months later [July] I did another photoshoot for a calendar for a Belgian company. These calendars are only sent to their company customers, so you can’t find the pictures online. You can only see the pictures if you work for the company. That calendar came out in the first week of January, and so I am guessing that it was the pictures in the calendar.
CN: In the photoshoots, are you wearing the team’s clothing?
TG: No, in the Playboy photo I was nude but with some areas covered so it was not vulgar. In the calendar I was topless and it had nothing to do with cycling.
CN: Neither photoshoots had anything to do with cycling or this team, sponsors?
TG: No, absolutely not
CN: They were taken before your agreement to join the team as a director?
CN: Is there anything written into the team policy, that you are aware of, that point to these pictures being not permitted or to give the team grounds to terminate the agreement?
TG: No, they didn’t show me anything like that. It’s not a UCI team and so they are not obligated to make a contract like that. I didn’t speak about [the pictures] before our agreement because in my head it was not important.
CN: Have you been in contact with the team since they broke the agreement?
TG: No, not really. After the phone call, I messaged the manager one more time telling him my point of view and what I thought about it. He kind of agreed with what I said, but he said, "I can’t do anything about it because I have sponsors and I can’t lose them."
I think the pressure came from, I heard, it came from one of the parents of one of the riders that has a relationship with one of the sponsors. That person was threatening to make contact with the sponsor so they would end the contract.
[Cyclingnews has viewed the messages exchanged between Gins and the team's manager on Saturday, January 23, 2021 - ed.]
CN: Allegations of abuse - You have written that men have walked into your shower, have tried to kiss you (unwanted), have made inappropriate comments toward you. Are you speaking about this team or previous teams that you have been a part of in your career?
TG: No, these were examples from previous teams. It was not just at one team, but several things that happened over the time span of 13 years. They were just examples to make it clear why this is frustrating for me.
CN: What teams?
TG: It was a lot of years ago and so I don’t think it’s necessary to point fingers at teams and names. In 2019, I was also involved in Health Mate, a Belgian team that made the press because of their director. There were a few riders that filed an official complaint with the UCI. It didn’t happen to me on that team, but I talked about it because I saw things that were happening that were not normal, shouldn’t be normal.
CN: When you refer to a double standard, what do you mean?
TG: For example, in Belgium, in a men’s race they want flower girls to dress very sexy and that is ok, but then if someone wants a position in men’s cycling that used to be the sexy girl, like a hostess or a promo girl, or who makes pictures then it’s not ok.
Also, I have noticed over all these years … when I went to training camps, I saw a lot of men’s teams and the stuff they did; cheating, sharing pictures of girls related or not related to cycling, girls that are not aware they have been photographed, being sent to all kinds of cyclists. It’s sickening to me and a lot of people close there eyes for everything that happens but it’s those same people that would tell me that I can’t work for a team.
CN: What do you want people to know, why is it important to you to bring this incident to the surface?
TG: There are so many women who want a position in men’s cycling, or in cycling in general, and they have the capabilities to do it but they don’t advance because of idiotic things like this.
To make the issue more known that these things are still happening and to be more aware of it. There are women who are capable of being directors at a men’s team, but it’s very hard to get a chance anywhere.
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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