Riding is Life


Two riders from Cynisca Cycling race at the 2023 Clasica Almeria. They're in a breakaway and one is sticking out her tongue.

Fake rider leads to sanction in bizarre incident of fraud

The Cynisca team's former assistant director, Danny Van Haute, directed a mechanic to impersonate a rider at a race in 2023.

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 26.02.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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The Cynisca women’s cycling team should be basking in the warm afterglow of Lauren Stephens’ win on Saturday at Clasica Almeria – its second in a row at the race – but instead the Continental-level team is in the news for far less-positive events.

The UCI on Monday issued a disciplinary finding against two former staff members of the team, including its ex-assistant Sports Director, Danny Van Haute, for a bizarre incident of fraud last year. At the 2023 Argenta Classic-2 Districtenpijl Ekeren-Deurne race, a UCI 1.1-rated event in Belgium in July, Cynisca found itself one rider short of the minimum five-rider team to start.

According to the UCI, Van Haute conspired to get around the minimum. He initially “instructed the riders present (Anna Hicks, Cara O’Neil, Katherine Sarkisov and Claire Windsor) to lie about the whereabouts of a fifth rider – who was not physically present at the venue – when questioned by the Commissaires. The riders stated to the President of the Commissaires’ Panel that a fifth rider was present but ill.”

When the Commissaires panel told the team it could not compete without all five riders signing in and starting the race, the UCI said, “Mr Van Haute instructed the team mechanic, Moira Barrett, to wear a rider’s clothes and a face mask, to present herself at the start and sign the start sheet as the team’s fifth rider.” That apparently didn’t work; although it’s unclear how the ruse was discovered, the team was not allowed to start, and the incident was referred to the UCI’s Disciplinary Commission.

As a result, Van Haute was handed a suspension “from any activity in cycling” until the end of 2025. Fans of American cycling know Van Haute as the longtime manager of the Continental men’s team Jelly Belly, later called Wildlife Generation. Jelly Belly/Wildlife saw a number of riders go on to the WorldTour, including Danny Pate, Kiel Reijnen, and Matteo Jorgenson before closing at the end of the 2022 season.

In response to a request for comment from Escape Collective, Cynisca’s press representative, Barbara Giles, confirmed the incident. In a statement, the team noted that Van Haute was not a full-time assistant director but was rather “hired by Cynisca on contract for several races,” and that his actions were “a one time mistake by a rogue director.

“At the time of the event, other team management/staff were unaware of the deception carried out by Mr. Van Haute and the mechanic,” the statement continued. “Upon learning of the incident, the team took immediate action internally and terminated all current and future relationships with Mr. Van Haute and the mechanic. The team then fully cooperated with the UCI investigation.

“Cynisca Cycling understands the need for disciplinary action taken by the UCI. The team did not and will never condone this sort of behavior” and apologized to the event organizers for the incident.

The mechanic in question, Moira Barrett, is suspended until September 1 of 2024. The Cynisca riders involved were given a reprimand but no other sanction. The team was given a one-race ban; its next scheduled race is the Altez GP Oetingen on March 6, but the team said it has not determined whether the suspension will be served then or if they’ll be forced instead to miss a subsequent event. Their next two events after that are both stage races, which would turn a one-day ban into multiple days.

The varying levels of punishment reflect the relative roles played: Van Haute directed the scheme, and the riders involved – all relatively young – faced the choice of going along with it or defying Van Haute, at risk to their careers. O’Neil, Sarkisov, and Windsor all still race for Cynisca; Hicks currently races for the Denver Disruptors in the National Cycling League.

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