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

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Patrick Van Gansen has told Cyclingnews that he is now working with a lawyer and intends to take legal action against the women who have accused him of abuse and inappropriate behaviour. The general manager of the UCI women's Health Mate Ladies Team rejects the allegations levelled against him by his former riders and said that he must deny them in a formal manner.

"In the last few days, I have been accused of sexually transgressive behaviour by certain former members of the women cycling team, Health Mate Ladies Team," Van Gansen wrote to Cyclingnews. "I’m deeply affected by these unjustified complaints. I can only deny these allegations in the most formal manner. To further polemicize this matter in the press has no use."

Cyclingnews reported on Tuesday that Esther Meisels, Sara Mustonen and Chloë Turblin all left the Health Mate Ladies Team, which is based in Belgium, in the past three months.

Meisels and Mustonen, along with Turblin's father, had separately filed three formal complaints against Van Gansen with the UCI Ethics Commission. The complaints centre around the UCI Code of Ethics: Appendix 1, that covers protection of physical and mental integrity – sexual harassment and abuse, and specifically point to Article 2.1 concerning psychological abuse and Article 2.3 concerning sexual abuse. Turblin's father initially filed his complaint citing bad treatment and illegal work.

In the wake of the first three formal complaints against Van Gansen at the UCI Ethics Commission, six former riders have come forward to corroborate the accusations that include verbal aggression and sexually inappropriate remarks.

Five riders wrote an open letter alleging that they had similar experiences while racing on the team managed by Van Gansen. The letter was penned by former rider Tara Gins, on behalf of herself and four women who wished to remain anonymous, to the Dutch news outlet WielerFlits and published on Wednesday.

Retired professional rider Liz Hatch also corroborated the allegations in a post on Twitter and in a detailed story on Het Nieuwsblad, cited similar experiences with the 54-year-old Belgian.

Health Mate Ladies Team to continue racing

Cyclingnews reached out to Van Gansen for a comment regarding the new allegations made by the five women in the open letter, and by Hatch, to which he replied that he rejected the claims and intends to take his accusers to court.

In addition, he said that he would make no further comments to the media as he lodges a legal complaint of defamation.

"In order to clear my name, I have decided - in consultation with my lawyer – to lodge a criminal complaint on account of defamation. This complaint will be filed with the competent authorities within the next few days. From now on, I will refrain from further comment on this subject in the media," Van Gansen wrote to Cyclingnews.

Het Nieuwsblad reported that it had contacted the president of the Belgian Cycling Federation Tom Van Damme, who said that he has not yet received official complaints regarding Van Gansen. However, he told the Belgian publication that Van Gansen "would be better to put a step aside until there is clarity about his role."

Van Gansen told Cyclingnews that he has no intention of stepping down as the general manager of Health Mate Ladies Team. He will also discuss with the financial backers of the team whether the team will continue in 2020.

"At the express demand of the riders of the team I will also remain as sports director during the period ahead," he wrote. "The team will keep going until the end of the season. Whether or not the team will continue its activities next season will be decided in consultation with the sponsors.

"In any case, I will do everything in my power to prove my innocence and to clear my name to the fullest."

Van Gansen provided a personal statement that also confirms his intent to take legal action on the Health Mate Ladies Team website. 

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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.