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Exclusive: Van Gansen faces new allegations of abuse as UCI delays Health Mate decision

Health Mate Ladies Team (UCI Women's Team)
The Health Mate Ladies Team ended in 2019 due to allegations of abuse against riders (Image credit: Getty Images)

The UCI Ethics Commission has delayed announcing its decision in the multi-complaint abuse case surrounding Health Mate-Cyclelive team manager Patrick Van Gansen amid new allegations. A rider from the team, who wished to remain anonymous, told Cyclingnews that she filed a formal complaint with the UCI Ethics Commission and gave testimony to the external agency investigating the series of complaints. She has alleged violence and inappropriate behaviour, and claims to have witnessed inappropriate behaviour toward her former teammate Esther Meisels, who was one of three women to have filed similar complaints in May 2019. 

"The UCI Ethics Commission has received the conclusions of the investigators," a spokesperson from the UCI wrote to Cyclingnews. "The Ethics Commission has made up its mind. The report to the Disciplinary Commission for the imposition of a penalty, if any, was however put on hold due to the filing of a new denunciation by an athlete, the alleged facts being the subject of an additional investigation."

Van Gansen has denied all allegations of inappropriate behaviour and violence and has requested that the UCI Ethics Commission and Sport Resolutions complete their investigations and make a decision in this case that began nearly a year ago. Cyclingnews first reported last June that three former Health Mate-Cyclelive riders - Esther Meisels, Sara Mustonen and the father of Chloë Turblin - separately filed complaints with the UCI Ethics Commission, reporting abuses by Van Gansen. Their complaints centre around the UCI Code of Ethics: Appendix 1, which covers protection of physical and mental integrity, sexual harassment and abuse.

Van Gansen has expressed his intent to take legal action.

"Me and my companies are having tremendous loss because of the position me and the name of my companies/brands where put into the worldwide press," he wrote to Cyclingnews. "I reserve all rights to sue those responsible, no matter who they are, in all possible facets of responsibilities for all losses currently suffered and all losses for the future. This is not limited to my private person, but will be the case for all my companies, brands and commercial activities confronted with any kind of loss from this case till now and in the future. [sic]"

The fourth formal complaint

The rider who has filed the fourth formal complaint with the UCI Ethics Commission told Cyclingnews that she had been in a relationship with Van Gansen that began at the end of 2014 and lasted for just over one year and ended in early 2016. She was contracted to race for Van Gansen’s Health Mate-Cyclelive team in June of 2018 and in 2019. Before that, she raced for other teams. She said that she also held a part-time working position (24 hours per week), handling administration, marketing and communications for the Health Mate-Cyclelive team beginning in 2018 and for Van Gansen’s other companies beginning in 2015. She said she mainly worked from her own home, which is in another country, but occasionally came to Van Gansen’s home office, which was also his private residence and used as the team house. She said that as of December 19, 2019, she agreed to resign due to the company’s financial difficulty, but continued working unofficially for Van Gansen during the month of January 2020.

The rider said that she didn’t file a formal complaint sooner because she was afraid and worried about losing her job. "This is a man who has to be stopped," the rider told Cyclingnews. "It is the reason, and I also understand why, my former teammates made their complaints and went public; to warn other riders, and young riders … There are still riders requesting to join this team. 

"I want to say to my former teammates that I am sorry that I was more afraid to lose my work than to support them during the moment that they left the team. For everyone, I think our own private problems seem the biggest. I was hoping to keep this job as a way to support myself in my cycling career, while working at a distance might protect me, but he didn’t pay me and got more and more aggressive and threatening toward me, until I was forced to leave. Maybe I am too late. I should have [come forward] sooner."

The Health Mate Cycleive Team raced the Women's Elite Omloop on their Belgian Thompson Maestro framesets (Image credit: Josh Evans)

The Health Mate Cycleive Team raced the Women's Elite Omloop on their Belgian Thompson Maestro framesets (Image credit: Josh Evans) (Image credit: Future)

Inappropriate behaviour

The rider provided testimony to the external agency handling the investigation Sport Resolutions in January and filed a formal complaint with the UCI Ethics Commission in early February. She corroborated the multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour levelled against Van Gansen by other members of the team. She also said that she experienced similar inappropriate behaviour by Van Gansen, detailing one occasion while she was working in his home office in Ekeren. "One of the reasons I never came to the team house, or in my case it was my official work place, was because when Patrick Van Gansen could not find something to shout at me about work, he was trying to hug me and get close to me during my working hours. He told me 'I get so horny when you are around me'. 

"I also witnessed one time, when I had to prepare some magazines for subscribers in the office, Esther Meisels [a rider who has filed a formal complaint against Van Gansen with the UCI Ethics Commission in May 2019 - ed.] came down from upstairs, he finally let me go - he was hugging me at the moment against my will - he turned to Esther and told her, 'I see you need my hug'. He often hugged us and always tried to touch, during these hugs, as many intimate parts as possible. It is difficult to talk about this and I never wish for any rider [to have to] stand in our position ever again."

Van Gansen has rejected all allegations of abuse and inappropriate behaviour outlined in the new complaint and the previous three complaints with the UCI Ethics Commission. He indicated that he would take legal action to clear his name in a full statement published on the Health Mate-Cyclelive team website last June. 

In a new statement to Cyclingnews, Van Gansen said that he has attempted to file a counter-complaint with the UCI Ethics Commission concerning the rider. In his attempt he said he cited, in part, "'sexual and moral intimidation of her team manager Patrick Van Gansen by sending pictures in lingerie and making unwanted sexual approach'. [She] was sending to me love messages and was constantly trying to seduce me and make sexual approach attempts," Van Gansen wrote to Cyclingnews.

"Furthermore a constant complaining about her relationship with her boyfriend and messages about her private life. And this was the case till 30/12/2019." 

Cyclingnews reached out to the UCI requesting confirmation that Van Gansen has submitted counter-complaints but did not receive a reply before publishing this story.

Violence

The rider also alleged physical violence in her formal complaint to the UCI Ethics Commission and testimony to Sport Resolutions, and described to Cyclingnews an altercation in the parking lot of a hotel in 2016 ahead of Flèche Wallonne where she said that after a disagreement with Van Gansen he attacked her. At that time, she was competing for another cycling team but working for Van Gansen’s company. She said that a hotel guest witnessed the incident and a hotel employee attempted to file a report with local authorities but the rider declined the help. "He slapped me on my face, it happened regularly in this period, and tried to take out the car keys of my hands," she told Cyclingnews regarding the alleged 2016 altercation. "But a hotel guest jumped on him and stopped him from beating me up. Afterward, the hotel manager came to me and said she knew certain social services that can help because it’s not normal that he’s violent. At that moment, I didn’t want to make a big thing of it. I wanted to move back to [my country] as soon as possible."

Asked why she didn’t report the incident to local authorities at the time, she told Cyclingnews, "I was too afraid and I thought that I wouldn’t find another job to combine with professional women cycling."  

Van Gansen denied that he was physically violent toward the rider. He told Cyclingnews that he and the rider had a disagreement in the parking lot but that she had attacked him. He also said the incident happened in 2016, not while he was the manager of the Health Mate-Cyclelive team, and should not be considered among the allegations being investigated by the UCI Ethics Commission or Sport Resolutions.

"She was five years with me [five years as an employee] and now she says that I hit her, that I did this and that … and that is such a big lie," Van Gansen told Cyclingnews. "It’s the same bullshit as everything else. I cannot prove that this is not true. But she is telling the same bullshit. Do I have to say what happened there? I’m not gonna say it … she attacked me. I held her two hands there. I held her two hands and I put her in the [rear] of the car and said 'stop it now'. That’s all. The rest, I didn’t do any violence. She was putting violence at me. 

"There is nothing to see, again, about my team because my team started in 2018.

"If I am that violent guy, who was violent with her in 2016, why did she stay living with me? Why after so many times that I could finally get her out of my house [address registration - ed.], why did she ask to come into my team in 2018? If I am so violent, why did she stay working for me, and why did she still stay working for me after December?," said Van Gansen, who said the rider’s address is still registered at his home-office in Ekeren.

Cyclingnews asked the rider why her address was still registered at Van Gansen’s Ekeren house, even though they were no longer in a relationship after 2016, and when she had moved back to live in her country and worked from her own home office through 2019. The rider said that at first she needed to register at the office address because she was an employee working in Belgium. She said that she didn’t cancel the address in Belgium, but that she changed her address online as soon as she moved back to her own country.

Van Gansen claims conspiracy

In an email to Cyclingnews, Van Gansen wrote that he is innocent of all allegations concerning inappropriate behaviour and violence levelled at him by the rider of the fourth complaint. He said that he tried to file a counter-complaint with the UCI Ethics Commission on March 2 and cited the following reasons in his defense. "Not bringing back the team bike from season 2018; Not bringing back the team bike from season 2019; Not bringing back other material (wheels, clothes, helmets) of both seasons; Using the UCI file and threaten with a complaint to keep team material and to get money; I’m charging her for totally false declarations about my person and my team Health Mate Ladies Team towards the UCI for slander and defamation; Sexual and moral intimidation of her team manager Patrick Van Gansen by sending pictures in lingerie and making unwanted sexual approach; Conspiracy with other riders to falsely accuse team manager Patrick Van Gansen." Van Gansen emailed Cyclingnews a partial defense file, which he said he provided to the UCI, that included a series of text messages and an image that he believes is proof of sexual and mental intimidation, conspiracy, slander, and defamation.

Van Gansen accused the rider who filed a fourth complaint of exploiting the MeToo movement. "This case which will show the world - above the other cases in which I have as much evidences against their statements  … how some ladies who are rejected, fired, or just don’t get what they want, are handling when the ‘MeToo’ story is backing them up."

In addition, Van Gansen told Cyclingnews that he attempted to file counter-complaints with the UCI Ethics Commission against six riders related to the ongoing multi-complaint abuse case against him. However, when Cyclingnews requested confirmation of his complaints, he said that he had not yet received a response from the UCI Ethics Commission and he could not provide confirmation that it had received any of his complaints [as of March 11 - ed.]. 

Cyclingnews reached out to the UCI requesting confirmation that Van Gansen has submitted counter-complaints but did not receive a reply before publishing this story.

Van Gansen told Cyclingnews that he has requested the UCI Ethics Commission and the Sport Resolutions to complete their investigations and announced their decision by April 15.  "I have given them [UCI Ethics Commission and Sport Resolutions] a deadline until April 15. If it is not done, there is [legal] action from our side to follow," Van Gansen told Cyclingnews.

The UCI Ethics Commission

It has been almost a year since Health Mate-Cyclelive riders - Esther Meisels, Sara Mustonen and the father of Chloë Turblin - separately filed complaints with the UCI Ethics Commission, reporting abuses by Van Gansen. Their complaints centre around the UCI Code of Ethics: Appendix 1, which covers protection of physical and mental integrity, sexual harassment and abuse. In the wake of those reports, six more riders have come forward to corroborate the allegations; Tara Gins and four riders who wished to remain anonymous wrote an open letter describing their experiences to the Dutch news outlet WielerFlits. In addition, former cyclist Liz Hatch confirmed similar experiences while racing on a team he sponsored in 2013 in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad.

A 10th rider, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote a letter to Cyclingnews that detailed an unsettling environment during her time on the team this year.

The UCI announced at the end of June that its Ethics Commission had begun a formal investigation into the complaints of abuse filed against Van Gansen. The governing body acknowledged that it had gained additional information regarding the case that indicated breaches of the Code of Ethics. Van Gansen has rejected all allegations of abuse and inappropriate behaviour and indicated that he would take legal action to clear his name in a full statement published on the Health Mate-Cyclelive team website. 

The UCI Ethics Commission then announced in December that it hired an external agency, UK-based Sport Resolutions, to investigate the series of abuse complaints lodged against Van Gansen, due to the case’s high demands that included the seriousness of the accusations, the complaints that span several years, and because there are a large number of people involved.  

Cyclingnews understood at that time, the agency's investigation was nearly complete and the Ethics Commission would soon make its decision either fully or partially public in accordance with its Code of Ethics. However, more than two months on and that decision has not been announced.

Through email correspondence in February, the UCI confirmed to Cyclingnews that it had received the Sport Resolutions conclusions and that the Ethics Commission had reached a decision when it then received a fourth formal complaint against Van Gansen.

Cyclingnews understands that the decision is now delayed because the UCI Ethics Commission and Sport Resolutions need to investigate the details of the new complaint and its allegations. When the Sport Resolutions’ investigation into the latest complaint against Van Gansen is complete and based on its conclusions, the Ethics Commission will then make its recommendations to the UCI. If appropriate, the Ethics Commission will make a referral to the Disciplinary Commission. The UCI may publish the decisions of the Ethics Commission, in whole or in part, as provided for in the Code. In addition, depending on the nature of the files, the UCI could have recourse in the future to an external agency specialized in the work of investigation and collection of testimonies.

Cyclingnews understands that Van Gansen is not registered as a staff member of a UCI team for 2020. Although the investigation is ongoing and a verdict has not been decided, Van Gansen told Cyclingnews that he has chosen to not be involved in women's cycling anymore. "I would love that the UCI is taking the right decision and that they communicate it very well, and that everyone understands how the decision is made. If I am guilty, according to them, and it’s really clear … I would love to have it behind me and I don’t want to do anything any more because it is eating me up for almost a year and I want to put it behind me."

Since Cyclingnews broke this story in 2019 Kirsten Frattini has gone on to write several exclusive and important stories on the subject. You can find all the coverage in the links below:

Riders file abuse complaints against Health Mate-Cyclelive manager

Six riders corroborate abuse allegations against Patrick Van Gansen

10th rider details unsettling environment at Health Mate Ladies Team

UCI begins investigation into abuse complaints against Van Gansen

Slappendel urges cyclists to file formal complaints with UCI against abusers

Health Mate to end title sponsorship amid Van Gansen investigation

Patrick Van Gansen to take legal action against women who allege abuse

UCI hires external agency to investigate abuse complaints against Patrick Van Gansen