The Doltcini-Van Eyck team have launched a searing rebuttal to the allegations made by Marion Sicot this weekend, branding the French rider a liar and accusing her of feigning depression and of "making use of the actual #MeToo-mood" to get a shorter doping suspension.
The Belgian team admitted their director, Marc 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."
Sicot confessed to doping with EPO in an interview with the Stade 2 television programme on Sunday, and blamed her actions on the abuse and psychological harassment she said she received at the hands of Bracke.
"I deserve to have a sanction but I would like to have a light sentence due to the circumstances with my sports director. It wasn't the real Marion who did that," Sicot said.
Doltcini-Van Eyck released a statement on Tuesday morning and began with Sicot’s admission that she had used EPO, having previously denied it when she tested positive for the blood-booster in June 2019.
"She alone is responsible for it. This act was nothing else than cheating, it was a lie to her competitors and her teammates," read the statement.
"For many months, Marion has been crying out her innocence in social media and press. She would do everything in her power to prove her innocence, whatever it might take. But now she now suddenly admits her use of doping. Her 'innocence' turns out to be one more lie.
"And now to justify for her 'mistake' she launches the next lie: her sports director is the one to blame."
The Stade 2 report showed an exchange of messages between Sicot and Bracke in which Bracke requested front and back photos of her in a bikini. He asked her to keep it secret and promised her they would be deleted. Sicot said Bracke requested these images every Monday beginning in November 2018 to keep track of her weight, and that without the photos he would not include her on the roster to compete in the races.
The team confirmed that Bracke asked for the photos until April, when her weight was deemed 'acceptable', and claimed proof was given that they’d been deleted.
"We do have the right to expect a professional attitude from our riders and returning after the winter with a lot of overweight is not exactly that, especially if you claim to be a rider for the climbs. It is in this context that the sports director Marc Bracke made the mistake (and he doesn’t lie about it, he admits it) to ask for photos to follow the progression of her condition/overweight," read the team’s statement.
"This is a practice that was normal in earlier times. Many people inside cycling know that. And it happened far less often than Marion Sicot now claims. She has never complained about this and she never mentioned it to other riders or other staff-members (including several women, we try to have many women in our staff). If she would have said one single time she felt uncomfortable about this it would never have happened again."
'Inventing depression and making use of #MeToo'
Sicot’s complaints follow similar allegations from two other Dolcitini-Van Eyck riders, which triggered a UCI investigation into the team. Canadian Maggie Coles-Lyster alleged sexual assault by a team assistant in 2017, while American Sara Youmans has filed a formal complaint citing the UCI Code of Ethics: Appendix 1 that covers protection of physical and mental integrity – sexual harassment and abuse.
"This has given her the inspiration and opportunity for combining her confession of the doping with the accusation of the sports director, resulting in the interview with Thierry Vildary in Stade 2, thereby making use of the actual #MeToo-mood and building up a story full of emotion, hoping to get a shorter suspension and hoping to be able to face the world after what she did,” argued the team.
"All timelines fit perfectly. The sacrifice of the life of the sports director to save hers, we believe this is what really happened. The life of the sports director, Marc Bracke, has been now destroyed more than hers will ever be."
Similarly, the team accused Sicot of 'inventing' the psychological strain she said led to her decision to purchase and use EPO.
"If I manage to get a performance, my sports director will give me as much importance as the other girls and will leave me alone with this relentlessness," Sicot told Stade 2. "I was disgusted. I was reaching saturation, I was reaching the end."
The team stated on Tuesday: "In that period nobody, really nobody, of staff or riders, has ever noticed that Marion Sicot was in a state of depression that would have driven her to the use of doping.
"We believe that this state of depression, that her sports director should have caused, simply wasn’t there at that time. It’s probably ‘invented’ recently with the purpose of giving a framework and justification to her confession of having used doping."
The team said they would cooperate with the UCI investigators and claimed their riders would attest to "a very high, not to say perfect, discipline on the field of respecting privacy or sexual abuse".
Continuing their attack on Sicot, they disputed her claims she was treated differently to other riders.
"This is probably more the problem of Marion Sicot herself. When she was with the team she often separated herself from the other riders instead of being one of the team. But perhaps this was difficult since Marion Sicot was not really a team-player. In races she frequently abandoned the team strategy and let her team members down."
The team ended their statement with 'additional comments' that criticised the reporter on the Stade 2 investigation and then questioned if Sicot had a collaborator in her doping after allegedly avoiding a test on the eve of La Course by Le Tour de France.