Intermarché-Wanty have further disciplined their riders Madis Mihkels and Gerben Thijssen after an incident at the 2023 Tour of Guangxi in which Thijssen posted a picture on social media of Mihkels making a racist gesture.
The team asked the pair to make a financial contribution to the Ardent Group Cycling Academy, a junior program linked to the Belgian squad.
A team spokesperson told Cyclingnews that “in order to position themselves as an example for the youth” Mihkels and Thijssen also spent a day with a junior club, teaching young club members “the values of cycling.” Both riders adhered to those requests over the winter.
With Biniam Girmay, the first-ever Black African winner of a grand tour stage, in their ranks, Intermarché-Wanty have been praised in recent years for their contribution to diversity in cycling. The team’s Chief Operating Officer, Maxime Segers, insisted that their commitment to inclusion remains as strong as ever.
“With more than 15 nationalities from different continents in our staff and riders, our team insist on the diversity and wants to include all communities,” Segers said.
At the time of the incident, the team withdrew the riders from the Tour of Guangxi and said in a statement that they would “take the necessary disciplinary steps to close this incident.”
Shortly after, the UCI’s Disciplinary Commission ruled that 20-year-old Mihkels and 25-year-old Thijssen should pay a fine and attend an anti-discrimination course. The UCI have confirmed with Cyclingnews that both riders have complied with those punitive measures.
A UCI representative said: “Both riders cooperated fully by each organising and completing an anti-discrimination course and paying the respective fine. The UCI has received relevant documentation related to the completion of the anti-discrimination course and has therefore been able to close the cases.”
The UCI said at the time of the incident that it “unequivocally condemns all forms of racist and discriminatory behaviour and is committed, through the UCI Constitution, the UCI Regulations and its programmes, to ensuring integrity, diversity, inclusion and equity in cycling.”
The team said that they “fully support [the] UCI’s decision and the fight against discrimination.”
No further disciplinary measures will be carried out by either the UCI or Intermarché-Wanty.
In a joint statement the day after being sent home from the Tour of Guangxi, Mihkels and Thijssen released a joint statement through a social media post, saying:
“We want to apologise for our behaviour and our lack of education about the Asian culture to all people who felt offended, especially the Chinese fans and all parties involved in the organisation of the Tour of Guangxi.
“We accept our withdrawal from the race. This error is an important life lesson for us both, which will definitely guide us to adopt a more humble attitude in the future.”
“We felt honoured to be invited to participate in the Tour of Guangxi. We feel really sorry for what happened yesterday morning, we realise that our social media publication was offensive and wrong.”
“We feel really good in a multicultural environment, so it was never our intention to hurt anybody.”
The duo both kicked off their 2024 seasons in January. Mihkels started off at the Tour Down Under, while Thijssen picked up an early win at the Trofeo Palma at the Mallorca Challenge.