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TotalEnergies boss ‘powerless’ as Geniez appeals domestic violence verdict

LLEX MONTSJURA FRANCE JULY 31 Alexandre Geniez of France and Team Total Direct Energie attacks during the 33rd Tour de lAin 2021 Stage 3 a 125km stage from Izernore to Llex MontsJura 900m tourdelain on July 31 2021 in Llex MontsJura France Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
(Image credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Team TotalEnergies (opens in new tab) have defended their lack of action amid Alexandre Geniez’s (opens in new tab)domestic violence case, with team boss Jean-René Bernaudeau telling Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview he remains “powerless” while his rider appeals the verdict. 

Geniez was found guilty (opens in new tab) in court last week and was handed a four-month suspended prison sentence, but Bernaudeau stated that the fact he is appealing means the verdict is effectively ‘annulled’ or ‘postponed’. 

Bernaudeau repeatedly cited French laws as the reason for his team’s stance - or lack thereof. 

Contracts for professional riders on French teams are structured differently to many foreign teams, with riders considered employees with full employment rights, whereas in some other teams riders are technically contractors. 

As such, the team boss argued that he is unable to even impose a provisional suspension, for fear of repercussions should Geniez be absolved further down the line.

Still, the team’s inaction and silence - with the exception of a vague statement that made no mention of Geniez - have raised questions over the seriousness with which domestic violence is treated.

In the interview with Cyclingnews, Bernaudeau addressed the issue for the first time. The transcript of the interview is below. 

Cyclingnews: First of all, we want to understand why the team have not taken action against Alexandre Geniez.

Jean-René Bernaudeau: The fight for women’s rights is a priority for us. We knew that Alexandre had been taken to court by his partner, he was convicted, he phoned me, he was dejected, he was crying a lot, saying ‘I’m going to appeal the decision.’ In France, an appeal annuls or postpones the decision, so the judgement will come later this year. 

So today, Alexandre Geniez, because of his appeal, has still not been convicted. So for me, as an employer under French law, he is awaiting judgement.

CN: So you’re saying it’s impossible for you to do anything at the moment?

JRB: If Alexandre Geniez doesn’t appeal, the verdict is definitive and we impose sanctions straight away - straight away, straight away. Now we await the appeal and we make a decision based on whether the original finding is confirmed or not. 

CN: Could the team not temporarily suspend or sideline Geniez while this is ongoing?

JRB: The law prevents us from doing anything more. Officially, Alexandre is not suspended, because the judgement has been postponed. At the moment it’s true we’ve left him at home to give him the time to digest and understand this. It’s serious. The accusations are serious. But today, legally, he has the right to race. 

CN: But surely you could, in theory, settle on a suspension in agreement with him?

JRB: We could, if he’s in agreement, but that’s a discussion we’ve not yet had. Taking the hypothesis that the appeal overturns the result, he could go after us as an employer. That’s how the law is.

CN: Do you appreciate the damage this might do - both to the image of the team and in terms of the message it sends out about the seriousness of domestic violence?

JRB: Women’s rights are a priority for us. The verdict is not yet definitive, so we cannot say anything. It would be prejudicial. We’re waiting. We don’t have a choice. The reaction on social media has been bad but on social media everyone is the judge in the court. That’s how it is. I can’t do anything. I’m powerless. The law is the law and we’re very respectful of the law.

CN: What will you do if the appeal upholds the guilty verdict?

JRB: If he’s found guilty… we do not condone that. If guilty, he’ll be sanctioned, that’s for sure.

CN: What would that be - a suspension, termination of contract…?

JRB: I don’t know. If confirmed, it’s something very serious, so there will be appropriate sanctions. But there you go, the law is the law and we respect the law. 

CN: What has Alexandre said to you?

JRB: He called me five minutes after coming out of court, in tears, saying ‘I don’t understand, I don’t understand. He cried a lot. He was destroyed. He was dejected. The situation with his partner was not going well and hadn’t been for some time and there you go, I don’t know the details, but I can just say I spoke to him five minutes afterwards and he was in tears. That’s all I can say. 

CN: What happens next?

JRB: He wants to fight this. He’s appealing. He’s preparing his defence. 

CN: Are there any races on his programme?

JRB: He doesn’t race for the time being. We haven’t put him in any races yet because, first of all, he’s not in a good way psychologically. We want to discuss this calmly, but legally we don’t have the right to do anything. 

CN: Does he want to carry on racing while this is ongoing?

JRB: I only spoke to him for five minutes and we didn’t talk about racing. He was in tears and when you’re like that you’re not in a position to compete. It’s too recent. We have to take time before we talk about that. 

CN: The team made a statement about domestic violence but didn’t mention the case, nor Alexandre Geniez’s name. Why?

JRB: Because we can’t do anything more. I’m the employer and the sponsors are the sponsors, and the press release was based on legal fact. If you do something more - even you, even if Cyclingnews writes that he has been convicted and he’s absolved on appeal, he can go after you, and he’ll win - that’s for sure. That’s the law. 

CN: What’s the timescale? How long will it take for a final verdict?

JRB: It’s a matter for the courts, they have a lot of cases, but I don’t know the timescale. I hope it’s quick. We’re eager to know the decision of the appeal, so we can take appropriate measures.

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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.