Marion Sicot has admitted to using EPO in an exclusive interview with Stade 2 that aired on Sunday. The French rider, who tested positive for the banned substance last June, has requested a reduced suspension alleging that her decision to purchase and use the drug happened after she experienced months of psychological harassment and abuse by Doltcini-Van Eyck team director Marc Bracke.
"I tried to protect myself by lying …" Sicot told Stade 2. "But once you tell the truth, you're much better, you manage to sleep better and get up in the morning by being a little more proud of what you have done."
Sicot has been competing at the professional ranks for four seasons and the last two seasons were with the Belgian team Doltcini-Van Eyck in 2018 and 2019. She tested positive for EPO in a test carried out at the French time trial championships on June 27, 2019. She finished tenth in the time trial and then ninth in the road race. She was due to ride the La Course by Le Tour de France but pulled out after being notified that EPO had been founded in her A sample.
At that time, she confirmed the positive test to the Directvelo website and revealed that she was awaiting the testing of her B sample. She had initially insisted she had not done anything wrong and claimed that women have higher levels of EPO during their menstrual cycle. Sicot later confirmed via social media that her B sample had also tested positive for the drug.
In her interview with Stade 2 on Sunday, however, Sicot admitted to Googling 'purchase EPO’ and then buying ten vials of the substance through a Chinese website in May 2019. She said she took the drug on June 24. She said that her decision to do so came after months of psychological harassment and abuse from her team director 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," she told Stade 2.
Stade 2 obtained a series of text-based messages between Sicot and Bracke, that show Bracke requesting front and back photos of her in a bikini. He also asked her to keep it a secret. Sicot said that Bracke requested these images every Monday beginning in November 2018 to keep track of her weight, that he thought she was fat, and that without the photos he would not include her on the roster to compete in the races.
"He told me that he erased them afterwards, but, that, I cannot know… " she told Stade 2.
"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.
"I was disgusted [...] I was disgusted with the high-level world. I was reaching saturation, I was reaching the end."
Cyclingnews reached out to Bracke by phone for a comment regarding Sicot’s allegations, however, he did not respond to our detailed message before the publishing of this story.
Doltcini-Van Eyck published a statement on their Facebook page, on Tuesday, March 10, and denied the allegations made by Sicot. The team has accused Sicot of lying, feigning depression and of "making use of the actual #MeToo-mood" to get a shorter doping suspension.
"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," the statement read.
"It is in this context that the sports director Marc Bracke made the mistake (and he doesn’t lie about it, he admits is) to ask for photos to follow the progression of her condition/overweight. 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."
The full team statement can be read here.
French Federation calls on UCI to investigate
The Fédération Française de Cyclisme (FCC) announced in an official communique Sunday that it had requested that an investigation be launched by the UCI into questionable practices by the Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport team, particularly with regard to Sicot’s case.
"Without prejudging the guilt of anyone, it is a question of taking the necessary measures so that the light is made and helping to dissuade the possible authors of inadmissible acts," said FFC in a press release. "Far from excusing any doping practice, the French Cycling Federation recalls its intransigence towards any situation of violence or harassment and its determination to act with the utmost rigor to protect its athletes."
The UCI has already opened a formal investigation into Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport women's team after two riders alleged abuses with in the team. Canadian Maggie Coles-Lyster alleged in an interview with Le Monde and Cyclingnews sexual assault by a team assistant in 2017. American Sara Youmans has filed a formal complaint with the UCI Ethics Commission citing the UCI Code of Ethics: Appendix 1 that covers protection of physical and mental integrity – sexual harassment and abuse.
Youmans has alleged inappropriate conduct by team director Bracke during her contract negotiations in October of 2019. She told Le Monde and Cyclingnews that during her negotiations to join the Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport women's team Bracke requested that she send him images of herself "in panties and bras".
Le Monde viewed the exchanges of messages and reported that Bracke asked Youmans to send him photos in a bikini and told her "Don't be shy ... This is the start of a relationship of trust."
Bracke has denied the allegations in a written response to Le Monde, and said that he requested images of riders legs for professional reasons only. "For professional reasons, yes, but only the legs. I am not interested in pictures of women in underwear," Bracke told Le Monde.
Cyclingnews reached out to Bracke by phone for a comment regarding Youmans’ and Coles-Lyster’s allegations, however, he did not respond to our detailed message before the publishing of this story.
In the Doltcini-Van Eyck team statement published on Tuesday, March 10, the team have said that Bracke is cooperating with the UCI's investigation.
"We also confirm that our team and Marc Bracke are ready to fully collaborate in any investigation by the UCI or any other competent party, but regret that the trial of Marc Bracke seems to have been made already in the media before he has even had the slightest opportunity to defend himself."