Doltcini-Van Eyck general manager Marc Bracke has been handed a three-year suspension for violating the UCI’s code of ethics following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment.
During the suspension, Bracke will be banned from taking any role within cycling. He will be allowed to return in 2024, but will only if he takes part in a “harassment awareness program” delivered by a recognized institution.
“This decision sets an important precedent when it comes to the fight against sexual harassment. It is essential for the well-being of athletes that they can have confidence in the institutions and feel free to report any form of abuse,” a UCI statement said.
“The UCI supports all people wishing to denounce such acts, whether they are victims or witnesses of conduct that does not conform to our Federation’s rules of conduct.”
The decision comes nearly nine months after he was found guilty of breaching the code of ethics following an investigation into sexual harassment claims.
Bracke was allowed to continue working within the sport until his punishment was decided, though some organizers — such as Tour of Flanders organizer Flanders Classics — requested he not attend their events.
Bracke denied the allegations that led to his suspension, calling them false.
A statement from the Doltcini-Van Eyck team said Bracke had not been allowed to defend himself during the investigation by the UCI Disciplinary Committee, and he would appeal the ban.
It also said that he had begun legal proceedings against one of the plaintiffs, French rider Marion Sicot.
“Marc Bracke has never been heard in this case and not one of his universal human rights, including the rights to defend himself, have been in no way respected,” the statement said. “In the complete dossier, there is not one act by and not one word from Marc Bracke that suggest [sic] he had any sexual intention towards Marion Sicot.
“A court case against Marion Sicot for false allegations and her actions in social and other media to support these has been started up for French justice.”
Accusations of sexual harassment
Sicot was one of two riders who filed complaints against Bracke, after he requested images of her in her underwear and bikinis. American Sara Youmans also filed a formal complaint after Bracke made similar requests while she was negotiating a contract with the Belgian manager. She did not join the team.
An investigation into the allegations was opened by the UCI Ethics Committee in March 2020.
Sicot brought her allegations after testing positive for EPO at the 2019 French national championships, for which she was given a two-year suspension. In an interview, she later said that she had taken EPO to appease Bracke.
Also read: Marion Sicot handed two-year suspension
In the statement issued by the Doltcini-Van Eyck team, it is claimed that Sicot only made the allegations in order to receive a lesser punishment.
“We stay convinced that Marion Sicot’s accusations against Marc Bracke have no other intention than to obtain a reduced suspension for her use of doping, in which she has succeeded. Not only Marc Bracke, but the complete team, its riders, sponsors and staff and women [sic] cycling itself are her victims.”
The UCI issued a subsequent statement on the case on Wednesday, denying that Bracke had not been given the opportunity to defend himself. It also criticized the Belgian for his comments about Sicot.
“The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) would like to clarify that Mr Bracke’s due process rights had been fully complied with. He was in fact given the opportunity to submit his defense before both the UCI Ethics Commission and the UCI Disciplinary Commission. The fact that neither commission deemed it necessary to conduct an oral hearing does not mean that his right to be heard was not respected.
“The UCI has a responsibility to ensure a respectful environment for stakeholders and must condemn such damage to the reputation of the rider Marion Sicot. The UCI Disciplinary Commission made it very clear in its decision that the matter concerned the behavior of Mr Bracke towards the complainants and any references to the reputation of the riders who denounced his conduct or the context in which such denunciations were made are of no relevance for the assessment of the fact.”
Earlier this month, the UCI updated its procedures in relation to violations of its Code of Ethics in an attempt to make the process shorter and less complex. The Ethics Committee will now be allowed to impose sanctions without referring the case to the UCI Disciplinary Committee.
The Ethics Committee is now also obliged to inform plaintiffs of decisions taken as part of an investigation. This was previously not the case and only those against who the complaint had been made were required to be informed.