In the wake of three formal complaints of abuse levelled against Health Mate Ladies Team manager Patrick Van Gansen at the UCI Ethics Commission, six more former riders have come forward corroborating the accusations that include verbal aggression and sexually inappropriate remarks.
Cyclingnews reported on Tuesday that Esther Meisels, Sara Mustonen and Chloë Turblin all left the Health Mate Ladies Team 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. Their 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.
Five riders have since written an open letter alleging that they had similar experiences while racing on the team managed by Van Gansen. The letter was penned to the Dutch news outlet WielerFlits and published on Wednesday.
In addition, retired professional rider Liz Hatch corroborated the allegations in a post on Twitter and in a detailed story on Het Nieuwsblad, citing similar experiences with the 54-year-old Belgian.
This brings the total number of former riders alleging abuse and inappropriate behaviour by Patrick Van Gansen to nine. Van Gansen has rejected all claims of abuse and has written a statement to Cyclingnews that he intends to take legal action. He also provided a personal statement published on the Health Mate Ladies Team website.
Tara Gins writes open letter on behalf of five athletes
Tara Gins, 28, retired from professional cycling last year after competing for one season with Health Mate Ladies Team. She previously raced for teams Lares-Waowdeals in 2016 and 2017. She contacted Wielerflits with the open letter on behalf of herself and four other former riders of Health Mate Ladies Team.
"The other four ladies prefer to remain anonymous," Gins told WielerFlits. "But we thought we should really do this to better explain things."
Read the full open letter
"Racing with the Health Mate Team has been an amazing experience. As all the riders got along very well and it really felt like a second family, it was nice to be part of it and we were thankful for the opportunity that was given to us.
"However, we all agree on the fact that Mr. Van Gansen had been making a lot of sexual and inappropriate remarks throughout the time that we have been part of the team.
"There were a lot of times he raised his voice and got verbal aggressive to the point riders got terrified and uncomfortable.
We have all witnessed verbal aggression towards other riders. Riders were scared to speak up, even willing to do anything so they would never see him in that state again. Even if they had to lie or vouch for him.
"It is true that there is no way you can have a discussion with him when he disagrees on your opinion. He has fat & body shamed (young) women and has the ability to mentally abuse women to the point that they break and lose the motivation to enjoy their sport. Mr. Van Gansen has two faces. The person we just discussed, as also a person who looks like the kindest person on earth, a person who will motivate and help you. We got to know both of them but at the end of the day the bad side is what you keep in mind.
"This statement has been written by multiple ex-riders of the Health Mate Cyclelive Team in order to support and back-up the statements coming from Esther Meisels, Sara Mustonen and Chloë Turblin. We fully agree that this man should not be allowed around (young) women who are trying to grow (as athletes) and where he has a position of power. We do not have any other intentions than wanting to speak up and to fight for a professional and safe sport. With this statement we will notify the UCI."
Cyclingnews reached out to Van Gansen for a comment regarding the open letter written by Gins and four anonymous women. He rejected the allegations and wrote to Cyclingnews that he intends to them to court.
"Now I'm even fighting against shadows," Van Gansen said. "Four girls who are not in my team anymore and who are afraid of giving their name and saying what I did do wrong to them. Tara Gins could also have said it [are] 6, 7 or 8 girls. It's so easy! Tara Gins herself was working for one of my companies and got fired in June 2018. I will also take Gins and the unknown girls to court!"
Liz Hatch is an American cyclist who competed for CyclelivePLUS-Zannata Ladies Team in 2013, a team that Van Gansen says he sponsored. After reading Cyclingnews' initial report concerning the complaints filed by Miesels, Mustonen and Turblin, Hatch confirmed in a post on Twitter that she faced similar experiences on the team.
"Reading this article makes me sick to my stomach. 6 years ago I had the unfortunate opportunity to experience Mr. Van Gansen's tactics personally while racing for his team and I can vouch for the validity of Esther Meisels claims. Please, get lost Van Gansen," Hatch wrote in a post on Twitter.
In a report published on Het Nieuwsblad Thursday, Hatch elaborated on her experiences while racing on the team, saying "He only had one goal: getting me into bed.
“We, Texan women, have one rule: unlike New Yorkers, we don't kiss men we don't know. I only noticed that Patrick Van Gansen, a man I barely knew, wanted nothing more than to kiss, touch or hug me."
Regarding the three formal complaints, and the open letter, Hatch told Het Nieuwsbald that said she believes what the other women are alleging and went on to describe Van Gansen as a systematic abuser.
“You will not read an untrue word in his official communication with the riders, let alone a sexual message. He works very systematically: gaining trust, abusing his position of power and then becoming palpable. As a young rider you have to be damn strong in your shoes. And if you refuse, he becomes verbally aggressive. And reproaches follow that you are underperforming in the race. Or that you are too fat."
Hatch said that she didn't feel empowered enough to make a complaint at the time, in 2013, and that she wanted to avoid confrontation with Van Gansen.
"I was not looking for confrontation, I was in a subordinate role and I could not go to something like an ethics committee of the UCI. I am so sorry that I wasn't empowered enough at the time and I didn't stop the creep myself. I suppressed it and forced it away. That was wrong, I now realize."
Cyclingnews reached out to Van Gansen for a statement regarding Hatch, and, as he did with the women who wrote the open letter, Van Gansen responded that he intends to take Hatch to court.
"This is the biggest example of how these people lie," Van Gansen wrote. "Before 2018, I was never manager or in any way involved in the staff or board of a cycling team. In 2013, I was sponsor of the team of Heidi Van De Vijver. I was not part of the team at all, not as manager, not as owner, not in any form of staff! I was sponsor of the team and I paid a salary to Mrs Hatch as a personal sponsor.
"Liz Hatch was voluntary for 6 weeks (February – March 2013) in my house because she didn’t find an apartment that she liked enough to live in. After 6 weeks she moved to an apartment in Lier which was paid by my company (also as sponsorship). Hatch was showing a very unprofessional attitude and I finished the contract on base of her 'big professional mistakes' she made. Hatch could not do anything because my company has the proves of her unprofessional behavior which allowed to finish the sponsor contract on immediate base.
"The story of Hatch is one big lie from the first till the last word. For the second time in her life she failed in having a real UCI level and the reason of that is herself! The only thing in her story that's true is that in the time she was here in my house, there were also other riders in the house. For more than eight years I'm helping riders to offer them a place when they need it. All this time there was never a complain!
"Why did she not go to court if she is right? Why could I finish the sponsorship from one day to another? Why is she saying it was my UCI team? Why is she coming out with her false story only now while she was famous in women cycling in that time?
"I will go to court to sue Mrs Hatch for what she is doing to my name!"