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Chloë Turblin: Van Gansen suspension is 'weak and anecdotal'

Health Mate Ladies Team (UCI Women's Team)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Chloë Turblin was the first of four athletes to file a formal abuse complaint against Health Mate team manager Patrick Van Gansen with the UCI Ethics Commission in February of 2019. The complaint was filed with the support of her father because she felt personally unable to take the steps to do so on her own. 

Van Gansen was found guilty of violating the sport’s code of ethics in the multi-complaint abuse case, and handed a partially retroactive suspension of two years and seven months by the Disciplinary Commission on Monday. He will be eligible to return to the sport on December 31, 2022, after completing workplace sexual harassment training. For Turblin, however, the sanctioning feels inappropriately light in comparison to the unseen scars that the abuse she suffered has left behind.

"I will just say, this sanction will not seem important enough, in the face of all the dreams broken. Whether it is one year, two years, three years , or more, a lot of things will never change for us, on our mind," Turblin told Cyclingnews on Tuesday.

"Two years is really weak, and anecdotal. The UCI welcomes this sanction, but it is really just an example … because, in fact, two years is not much, while some women have lost their esteem and love for their sport forever.

"Now I’m trying to move forward. If this judgment can serve as an example to help women's cycling in its evolution, at least I tell myself that it will have served for something."

Turblin, now 25, turn professional with the Health Mate-Cyclelive team in 2018. Turblin’s father filed a formal complaint initially citing bad treatment and illegal work conditions, but then escalated to include inappropriate behaviour. Turblin officially left the team in May of 2019. She returned to competition last year with the Massi-Tactic Women’s Team and is a registered physiotherapist. 

Turblin had also taken her complaint to the local law enforcement near her home in France. She confirmed to Cyclingnews in 2019 that she filed the report with the Gendarmerie nationale à Saint Estève, citing psychological and physical harassment, abuse of weakness, intimidation and defamation against Van Gansen. Van Gansen had denied the allegations and told Cyclingnews that he did not receive notice, at that time, from the Gendarmerie. 

The four riders who filed formal complaints - and the seven other women who gave corroborating testimonies in the media - might feel a sense of closure following the Disciplinary Commission’s announcement on Monday, but the case has shined a light on some of the procedural flaws and oversights in the system, such as, the sanctioning, lack of transparency, limited resources and post-abuse care, and the fact that alleged perpetrators are permitted to continue working in the sport until the final sanctioning.

The UCI has stated that it is committed to creating a more transparent process for filing abuse complaints at the Ethics Commission and is in the process of building a new set of guidelines and creating a more approachable environment to help athletes feel comfortable reporting their experiences with abuse in cycling. The UCI also stated it is working to set up a platform for whistle-blowers and more abuse awareness-raising material to be published on its website.

When the UCI announced last June that its Ethics Commission had found Van Gansen guilty of violations of its Code of Ethics, it initially brought vindication to the women who filed formal abuse complaints against him. At that time, Turblin provided Cyclingnews with her perspective on the case that has now come to an end.

Chloë Turblin full statement - June 2020

We received an e-mail a week before the decision was announced indicating that the Secretariat of the UCI Ethics Commission had submitted the final report of the panel of the UCI Ethics Commission on its open investigation to the UCI Disciplinary Commission on April 3, 2020.

However, the final verdict had not yet been pronounced [to me], but it is true that according to the UCI's press release, and the media of all kinds, things seem to be going our way.

Simply by noting the UCI's statement, I had the deep feeling that I no longer feel like a "bitch".

I can't say that it's a relief, nor that in one evening all the feelings that have haunted me for a year have disappeared since we haven't yet had the final verdict [UCI Disciplinary Commission has not announced Patrick Van Gansen’s penalty for violations to the Code of Ethics - ed].

I remain realistic because I know very well that the coming weeks are going to be very complicated for all of us, because Patrick Van Gansen risks throwing his last stray bullets in the press, to try and destroy us further, by continuing to deny all the accusations against him. 

Guilt, embarrassment, and shame. These are the three feelings that have long shared my daily life for the past year. 

Do you know what it's like when nobody listens to you, and doesn't pay attention to what you say?  To the point where you start to convince yourself that the problem is yours? Well, it's been my daily life, and I sincerely wish no one else has to go through that.

I was the first to denounce the facts [of abuse to the UCI Ethics Commission] with the help of my father. Why did my father take sides in this story? Beyond his personal confrontation with Patrick Van Gansen, I think he's seen me in states no father would want his daughter in. So, with my agreement, he took the first steps, as well as supporting me by making his own statements, because I felt personally unable to make them alone. 

During the majority of this period, Patrick Van Gansen sent me threatening messages, trying to contact me very late at night, and even sometimes with a masked appeal. He systematically included mine and my father's email addresses as hidden copies when he sent his defence files to the UCI. It was a form of torture, for several weeks he demeaned me, and turned me against my own father, trying to destroy our family, and to divide us. Little by little, he destroyed my self-esteem. 

Until then, all the mental energy that I had invested in my sport, my passion, I did it in a determined, convinced, and in a relentless way, and have been doing it like this since I was 12 years old. Of course, I never had world-class results, I am also not among the best French [riders], but should that make me a person whose testimonies are ignored? Is our [the victims'] consideration really proportional to our palmares? This is the feeling I have had, in the face of the looks and disparaging remarks of some people, during my dealings with the UCI.

I hope that the case of the Health Mate team will further enhance the balance and development of women's cycling. I don't want the women's cycling community to take offence, close their eyes, or be ashamed of this kind of case. As you know, even though I am aware that these kinds of problems are unfortunately sometimes present, I do not wish to make a generalization either. Some women's teams have an equal balance, the same opportunities, the same respect as our male counterparts. Women's cycling is evolving, there's no denying it.

Unfortunately or "fortunately" this kind of thing [abuse of riders] happens more easily in small teams, since instability and financial precariousness can create unhealthy situations. But should we have to go through these small steps, in order to increase our capacities, and our chances of getting into the best teams? This is what many directors abuse/take advantage of: the weakness of young riders faced with their dreams of becoming professionals.

At the present time, I still find it hard to look at my sport the way I used to look at it. For months now, my coach and I have been looking for every possible strategy to recreate my balance and motivation, in vain. Every day I am still able to give the same energy, rigour, motivation and conviction as before to my sport. 

However, I am facing [what feels like] a profound failure, despite being one of the only girls, among the ones to denounce the faults that took place at HealthMate, to have signed a contract with a UCI team for 2020.

I know that my statement may surprise some people, the season has not yet started and yet I am not motivated. For the moment, I have lost all illusions and desire to evolve in my sport. I thought it would come back, but no, it's not coming back. Cycling no longer makes me dream or shine, and it's a deep feeling of personal failure that I cannot have the motivation and drive that I had before all this. 

The 2020 season, if it takes place, will be my last high level road season. Of course, I would like to proudly honour the Catalan colours of my team Massi Tactic until December 31, 2020. I have taken the decision to retire from this [road cycling] world at the end of this season.

This [cycling] environment has brought me so much, and has also destroyed me so much throughout this year, between my statements [formal complaint] and the [UCI Ethics Commission’s] judgment - although the [penalty] still has not been proclaimed, I wish to remind.

My goals for 2021 will be quite different, and I wish to practice, for pleasure, disciplines radically different from the one I have been practicing for years. I will devote myself to mountain biking, and ski mountaineering, complete to my professional beginnings in working life. I am a physiotherapist.

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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.