The female athletes who filed formal harassment complaints against Doltcini-Van Eyck team manager and director Marc Bracke will feel some semblance of closure as the high-profile abuse case in the sport of cycling has come to an end.
The UCI announced on June 23 that its Disciplinary Commission has handed a three-year suspension to Bracke, following the sexual harassment case involving two female cyclists. Bracke will not be eligible to return to the sport until June of 2024.
In a statement sent to Cyclingnews via the team, Bracke stated that he will appeal the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), claiming that his evidence had been 'minimized' and his right to defend himself had not been respected.
The Disciplinary Commission's decision comes almost four months after team manager of the former Health Mate-Cyclelive team, Patrick Van Gansen, was handed a partially retroactive suspension of two years and seven months by the Disciplinary Commission following a guilty verdict in the multi-rider abuse case that shocked the professional cycling world in 2019. Van Gansen will not be eligible to return to sport December 2022.
Both former team managers are also obligated to take part in a harassment awareness programme delivered by a recognised professional institution if they wish to apply for a licence upon the conclusion of their sanctions.
Neither outcome has been viewed as entirely just with some perceiving the short duration of suspensions as being inappropriately light given the severity of the abuse complaints and offences.
However, the implementation of new changes to the Code of Ethics, transparency, provisional suspensions and educational tools, might lead to a more equitable process for victims of abuse in cycling.
Cyclingnews looks at the timeline coverage; reports, features and news, during the case against Doltcini-Van Eyck team manager and director Marc Bracke from October 2019 to June 2021.
Doltcini-Van Eyck abuse case: October 2019 to June 2021
The first reports
Reports of serious ethics problems at the Doltcini-Van Eyck team first surfaced in March of 2020 with the confirmation that the UCI had opened a formal investigation into the women's team after two riders came forward in the media about two separate incidents.
In an interview with Le Monde, Canadian cyclist Maggie Coles-Lyster alleged sexual assault by a team assistant who also worked as the soigneur (not Bracke) in 2017 when it was under title sponsors Lares-Waowdeals. However, she confirmed to Cyclingnews, at that time, that she did not file a formal complaint, in part, because she was embarrassed, didn't want to cause a problem on the team, and because she wasn't aware of the channels with which to make a formal complaint of this nature.
In addition, American cyclist Sara Youmans alleged inappropriate conduct by team manager and director Bracke during her contract negotiations in October of 2019. She confirmed to Cyclingnews that she filed a formal complaint the same month, alleging that Bracke had requested that she send him images of herself "in panties and bras".
Marion Sicot, who tested positive for EPO in a test carried out by Agence Française de Lutte contre le Dopage (AFLD) at the French time trial championships on June 27, 2019, said she experienced months of psychological harassment and abuse by Doltcini-Van Eyck team director Bracker and requested a reduced suspension alleging that her decision to purchase and use the drug happened after those incidents. The allegations were made in an interview with Stade 2. Sicot alleged that Bracke repeatedly requested images of her in a bikini.
The news was followed by a request by the Fédération Française de Cyclisme (FCC) that an investigation was to be launched by the UCI into questionable practices by the Doltcini-Van Eyck team, particularly with regard to Sicot’s case.
- March 1, 2020 - UCI opens investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport
- March 9, 2020 - Marion Sicot admits using EPO, alleges abuse at Doltcini-Van Eyck
Doltcini-Van Eyck's defense
Doltcini-Van Eyck published a statement on their Facebook page, on March 10, and denied the allegations made by Sicot.
The team admitted that Bracke had demanded regular photos of Sicot in a bikini, but argued: "This is a practice that was normal in earlier times – many people inside cycling know that."
The team accused Sicot of lying, feigning depression and of "making use of the actual #MeToo-mood" to get a shorter doping suspension.
The team also stated that Bracke was cooperating with the UCI's investigation.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Philippa York weigh-in
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot made a public statement regarding Sicot's anti-doping case at AFLD and her allegations of abuse by Bracke. She stated that she didn’t want to be misunderstood, and that Sicot’s situation was delicate, but that there was something that was unsettling about her testimony in the interview with Stade 2. However, regarding the allegations of abuse, Ferrand-Prévot said:
"If harassment from her team director is established – and that’s the subject of an inquiry from the French Cycling Federation, which you can’t accuse of doing nothing – by the UCI, then he should clearly be condemned," Ferrand-Prévot wrote. "A woman has the right to say no if a demand seems inappropriate. She must not have fear of reprisals – sporting or personal. That has been said and, if needs be, I will repeat it."
Philippa York also wrote an opinion story published on Cyclingnews about the case saying that the defense statement put out by Sicot's former team, Doltcini-Van Eyck, highlights not only the pressures to perform but other much more worrying attitudes towards female riders altogether.
- March 12, 2020 - Pauline Ferrand-Prévot: Something unsettles me about the revelations from Marion Sicot
- March 28, 2020 - Philippa York: Bikinigate and the worrying attitudes toward female riders
Sicot files dual complaints
Sicot moved forward with her allegations and filed a formal complaint against Doltcini-Van Eyck manager Bracke with the UCI Ethics Commission. In an interview with Cyclingnews, she also confirmed that she had filed a separate criminal complaint alleging sexual harassment with her local authorities in France.
Sicot hired legal representation, by two separate attorneys in the corresponding jurisdictions, to advise her regarding her complaints to the UCI Ethics Commission in Switzerland and her criminal complaint in France.
Cyclingnews reached out to Bracke by phone, and subsequent email, for a comment regarding Sicot's allegations; however, he did not respond to our detailed message before publishing this story. A representative of Doltcini-Van Eyke later told Cyclingnews that Bracke had not heard from the French authorities.
- August 17, 2020 - Sicot files dual complaints with police and UCI against Doltcini-Van Eyck manager Bracke
Ethics Commission finds Bracke guilty of ethics violations
The UCI announced on October 9 that its Ethics Commission determined that Bracke was guilty of violations to the Code of Ethics following formal complaints of harassment alleged by two female riders - Sicot and Youmans - who separately filed formal complaints with the Ethics Commission after Bracke requested images of them in their "panties and bra" and "bikini."
On September 24 (specifically), the UCI had sent its official report to the Disciplinary Commission which was responsible for making the decision on the recommended sanctions for Bracke. Until that time, however, Bracke was permitted to apply for a team license to manage the Doltcini-Van Eyck team in 2021.
- October 09, 2020 - Doltcini-Van Eyck director Marc Bracke found guilty of harassment
Sicot suspended for doping
In January 2021, it was revealed that Sicot was handed a reduced two-year suspension by the Agence Française de Lutte contre le Dopage (AFLD), a decision made by its Sanctions Commission on December 16, but that L'Equipe reported on in January.
Sicot tested positive for EPO in a test carried out by the AFLD in June 2019 and was provisionally suspended on July 18, 2019. The retroactive suspension meant that Sicot will be able to return to competition in July 2021.
Sicot initially denied using EPO but she later admitted to it in an exclusive interview with Stade 2 that aired last March 2020.
Sicot said in a statement to Cyclingnews, that she believed that 'justice was done' upon receiving a reduced two-year suspension after the AFLD took into consideration the details of her harassment case that was filed with the Ethics Commission against former team manager Bracke.
- January 5, 2021 - Marion Sicot handed two-year suspension for doping
- January 6, 2021 - Marion Sicot: 'Justice was done' in reduced two-year doping suspension
Major flaws in the system are exposed
While the harassment case against Bracke was under review at the Disciplinary Commission, the body announced its sanctioning decision in a separate abuse case against the Health Mate-Cyclelive team manager Patrick Van Gansen.
Both cases highlighted major flaws in the system that included; limited resources and impersonal experiences, lack of transparency, no provisional sanctions, alleged abusers permitted to working in cycling until officially sanctioned, maximum sanctioning, and no aftercare for abuse victims.
- February 24, 2021 - Health Mate abuse case highlights major flaws in the system
Sicot appeals to CAS for abuse victims' rights
Sicot appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the UCI’s lack of transparency with the victims in the two separate, highly-publicised harassment and abuse cases surrounding former managers Van Gansen and Bracke.
Sicot is asking, in the appeal filed on January 27, that the UCI better communicates its decisions to the victims involved in both cases, and in the future, to make the victims party to the procedure after they have filed formal complaints with its Ethics Commission.
- February 28, 2021 - Marion Sicot appeals to CAS over UCI’s lack of transparency in abuse cases
Perpetrators continue to work in cycling
Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel confirmed to Cyclingnews that his organisation had requested that Doltcini-Van Eyck team manager Bracke not attend its events ahead of the Tour of Flanders.
A decision regarding Bracke's sanctioning had not been reached in the harassment case that was being reviewed by the Disciplinary Commission. Until that decision was made, Bracke was not provisionally suspended, and so he was permitted to continue to hold a licence and manage and direct the team.
Belgian Cycling told Cyclingnews that it had no authority over the case, or whether Bracke attended events while the case was on-going, and that it did not have the authority to impose a provisional suspension while the Disciplinary Commission reviewed the findings.
A representative from Doltcini-Van Eyck confirmed to Cyclingnews, at that time, that Bracke would not attend any of Flanders Classics events until the Disciplinary Commission reach a decision.
In the meantime, the UCI confirmed to Cyclingnews that its Disciplinary Commission had the power to provisionally suspend Bracke, but that it had not done so, while it deliberated on a decision regarding his sanction.
- April 3, 2021 - Flanders Classics request Doltcini-Van Eyck director Bracke not attend Tour of Flanders
- April 7, 2021 - UCI says Disciplinary Commission has power to provisionally suspend Bracke
UCI makes sweeping changes to ethics process
The UCI announced on June 3 that following its June Management Committee meeting, it had given its Ethics Commission power to sanction individuals without having to refer cases to the Disciplinary Commission.
The changes came with a series of preventive measures to fight against abuse in cycling and to promote integrity in its regulations and processes, along with new education initiatives. These steps help address a series of flaws in the process that victims face when filing complaints with the Ethics Commission.
To accelerate procedural timelines, the UCI has now given its Ethics Commission full sanctioning powers, without having to refer the cases to the Disciplinary Commission (effective on June 3, 2021). It also now has the authority to impose provisional measures, to provisionally suspend the alleged perpetrator, while a case is being treated and investigated. The UCI will also appoint an Integrity Manager in September.
A lack of transparency with the victims has also been flagged as a major flaw in the Ethics Commission’s complaint process. In its series of changes to its complaint process, the Ethics Commission is now obliged to inform the victims on the procedure and its reasoning on all decisions, insofar as the complainants are directly concerned by the relevant facts. However, the upgrade falls short of making victims party to the proceedings.
The Cyclists' Alliance stated that changes to the ethics code and process would lead to a more equitable process.
- June 3, 2021 - UCI gives Ethics Commission sanctioning power to fight abuse
- June 4, 2021 - The Cyclists’ Alliance: UCI changes over abuse complaints will lead to equitable process
Bracke suspended for three years
The UCI announced on June 23 that its Disciplinary Commission suspended Bracke for three years following the highly-publicised sexual harassment case involving two female cyclists. Bracke’s sanction is effective immediately and he will not be eligible to return to the sport until June of 2024.
Bracke will be eligible to apply for a licence, following his suspension, on the condition that he take part in a harassment awareness programme delivered by a recognised professional institution.
In a team statement sent to Cyclingnews, Bracke stated that he will appeal the decision, claiming that his evidence had been 'minimized' and his right to defend himself had not been respected.
The UCI clarified in a response to the statement released by Doltcini-Van Eyck that Bracke was given the opportunity to submit his defence before both the Ethics and Disciplinary Commissions. The sport governing body also stated that it recognised Bracke's right to appeal to the CAS, but that it deemed the team's statement to be defamatory in nature.
- June 23, 2021 - Marc Bracke handed three-year suspension for sexual harassment
Sara Youmans and Marion Sicot reactions to Bracke's suspension
Sara Youmans and Marion Sicot, two cyclists who filed formal complaints against Doltcini-Van Eyck’s team manager Marc Bracke, reacted to the UCI Disciplinary Commission’s decision to hand Bracke a three-year suspension for sexual harassment.
The riders stated they felt that some justice had been done, but that there is still room for improvement when it comes to victims' rights during the procedural process related to filing abuse complaints in the sport of cycling.
- June 24, 2021 - Youmans and Sicot react to Bracke’s sexual harassment suspension
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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