A Comprehensive Timeline of All the Lyne Bessette/Genevieve Jeanson Drama
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Look, cycling doesn’t really have excellent celebrity feuds. Sure, we have Wout van Aert versus Mathieu van der Poel and the occasional (usually relatively pathetic) punch thrown after a race. But we don’t exactly rise to the Selena/Justin/Hailey levels of public drama.
Still, we do occasionally have a racing rivalry that’s exacerbated by doping allegations and convictions. Rarely does it resolve in redemption, but in the case of Geneviève Jeanson and Lyne Bessette, there actually is a happy ending to a dramatic tale.
When most of us think of Canadians, we don't think of high drama. We’re more inclined to assume that Canadian cyclists will happily cede their position in a sprint, or, if they do take the win, immediately say ‘sorry’ to their competitors.
I hate to shatter your illusions, but while Canadians do tend towards the polite side of things (as a Canadian transplant by way of a New Jersey upbringing, I can say this with utter authority), they do have their share of cycling drama.
And arguably, none was quite as vehement as the battle that raged between Quebec’s two top women racers, Geneviève Jeanson, a former pro who served a two-year ban for doping before sharing the behind the scenes of the abuse she suffered as a junior at the hands of her coach, and Lyne Bessette, a two-time Olympian and—wait for it—member of Parliament in Canada.
You may not be aware of the drama though, since unlike today’s world of social media sharing for any perceived slight in the pro peloton, most of Jeanson and Bessette’s story happened behind the scenes, or in articles that have long been forgotten. But if you’re looking for a juicy story with a happy ending, let’s talk timelines:
1999: At 24 years old, Bessette begins her professional cycling career and has early success. Also in 1999, an up-and-coming junior racer took the world by storm: Jeanson won the World Junior road and time trial championships.
2000: Bessette qualifies for the Olympics, Jeanson has to petition for an exemption to the rules in order to qualify, as she had raced the 1999 qualifying year as a junior. Her early 2000 results helped her gain the Olympic slot, and the two women headed to the Olympics for Team Canada.
2000: The road race at the Olympics led to serious controversy between the two. Bessette was in the break, and Jeanson was in the chase group that helped close the gap, potentially costing Bessette a medal. While some maintain that Jeanson’s coach (more on him in a minute) André Aubut told her to chase down the break, others say that Jeanson simply stayed in the chase group and only helped bridge the final gap when it was obvious that the group was caught.
2001: Jeanson continues a meteoric rise in women’s cycling, but the duel with Bessette continues. Bessette won time trial Nationals over her by several seconds, and the media went wild promoting the ‘duel’ between the two whenever they were on a starting line together.
2003: At Road World Championships in Ontario, Jeanson was not allowed to compete in the road race after failing a blood test that suggested EPO use. At the time, Bessette made several off-the-cuff comments about the result. (According to the Globe and Mail, Bessette spoke hotly of how cheats "need to be punished," and added "We were waiting for this to come out. Today, it's out.”)
2003: However, a later test showed no traces of the drug, and she held a news conference denying use. Bessette retracted her previous comments and apologized. "She's been punished enough, not being allowed to participate in the championship road race in her own country. That's punishment," Bessette said to the Globe and Mail. "But it's true that maybe I was a little hard. I'm sorry…. Things change . . . There is not war between us."
2003: An investigation into an orthopedic surgeon Dr. Maurice Duquette, who Jeanson worked with, charged him with giving EPO to athletes. Duqutte said that Jeanson was one of the athletes he had given EPO to, but Jeanson denied that she had ever used EPO.
2004: Jeanson is suspended for a failure to appear for post-race doping test at the women's edition of Fleche-Wallonne, but the case is ultimately dismissed.
2004: Jeanson’s coach is investigated for spitting on another rider (seriously). According to the CBC, Aubut was driving when he rolled down a window and spit on Ontario’s Anne Samplonius, who had recently written an open letter about Jeanson’s small fine and minor penalty for skipping a doping test. "You have granted me (as well as all women cyclists) a 'get out of jail free' card!” Samplonius wrote. "Now I, too, can miss my next drug test of choice and get off with just a warning and fine. This has opened up my cycling future!"
2005: Both Bessette and Jeanson find themselves without teams for the season, for different reasons. 2004 will ultimately be the last year that Bessette raced a full season, though she continued to race at a more casual level, ultimately shifting to gravel.
July 2005: After winning Canadian Nationals on the road, an out of competition test for Jeanson is positive for EPO after winning the Tour de Toona in PA—a second offense after her failure to appear. She denied taking the banned substance at the time.
January 2006: Jeanson announces her retirement. She also accepted the two-year ban that USADA levied for EPO use (though with the second offense, she could have received a lifetime ban—which she potentially would have fought).
September 2007: Jeanson admits to CBC’s Radio-Canada that she had been using EPO since she was 16. "I hated everything. I hated myself for doing it. I hated myself not being able to get out of it. It was miserable," she said. Her coach first admitted to it, then denied it.
September 2007: Bessette gives interview to Canadian news network CBC to say she’s “sad to see that she got caught up in that,” but adding "I'm happy for her that she finally is telling the truth, that she wants to move on to rebuild her life and turn the page.” (Bessette also contended that winning without doping is possible, and that if her coach was pushing her to dope, she could have sought help—though she acknowledged the difficulty of doing so as a teen. "Why didn't she go to her parents and her family? She says she knew she was doing something wrong. It was probably really difficult, and she was stuck and she was disturbed.”)
2009: Jeanson’s coach André Aubut and doctor Maurice Duquette were banned for life by the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport (in addition to previous charges posted against Duquette). "The sanctions taken against Jeanson's coach and doctor show that athletes do not take drugs alone, most of the time," Louis Barbeau, general manager of the Quebec Cycling Federation told Cycling News.
2014: Canadian sports drama and biopic of Jeanson’s rise and fall from grace, entitled The Little Queen, is released. (The titular character is renamed, but the story is based on Jeanson.)
2015: A documentary about Bessette’s 11-year career as a clean cyclist comes out. “I’m getting lots of good messages that it was a good way to explain my career and what happened,” Bessette said in an interview, alluding to Jeanson’s doping scandal. “There were things that a lot of people didn’t know about Genevieve and I, and why people thought she was the best and why I would place behind her."
2015: Jeanson gives Cycling News an exclusive interview detailing the abuse she suffered at the hands of Aubut as a teen cyclist.
2016: Aubut was arrested for domestic violence against his wife in Phoenix, AZ.
2019: Bessette is elected as a Member of Parliament (seriously).
2021: Jeanson joins the new Floyd’s of Leadville team, owned by Floyd Landis (who you maaaay remember from, you know, this minor cycling drama).
2021: Jeanson sends an open letter to the UCI, which is also published on Cycling News. In it, she writes:
The abuse started when I was just 15 years old; "light" at first, and became more severe as the years went by. I was screamed at, insulted, manipulated, shamed, beaten, physically and psychologically abused. Why did I keep quiet? Because of the constant threat of him taking my life and his own if I were to go public; this was his weapon of choice. Because I was afraid. Because I was ashamed. Because I was told it was all my fault. Because he would tell everybody that I was using EPO. Because I did not want to have cycling taken away from me.
April 2022: In a bombshell interview with the The International Testing Agency, Jeanson not only admitted to doping, but shared the intense abuse and pressures that she had suffered as a teen at the hands of her coach, and later, her doctor. “I swear, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said to LaPresse. “Failing this doping test relieved me. It meant I could finally stop cycling and leave my coach.” She explains that Aubut was not only pushing her to take the drugs, he was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive to her from as young as 14 years old. Then, at 16, Duquette prescribed her EPO at Aubut’s urging, Canadian Cycling Magazine reported.
July 2022: Jeanson and Bessette not only buried the hatchet, they became friends. As more of Jeanson’s story became public knowledge, Bessette reached out to her with an olive branch via Facebook, and after meeting up for a drink, a friendship emerged. They both shared this photo on their respective Instagrams:
Jeanson wrote: "My heart is full. What you see in this picture is more than just smiles - you see YEARS of personal growth between the both of us. Thank you @frenchb7 for sending me that first message and being so kind - I found another piece of myself thanks to you.”
January 2023: Bessette kicks off the new year with a lovely Facebook post about Jeanson, saying “My favourite memory of 2022 is hard to beat! Happy New Year!” (Jeanson replied, “We have just begun! Happy New Year!”)
February 2023: The former rivals announced that not only are they now friends, they’ll be competing together this summer, hinting at a full calendar of gravel racing—a return to cycling for both of them that was arguably quite unexpected. (Gotta love the hashtag, #wearemovingon)
February 2023: In an interview with LaPresse, Bessette says she’s excited to finally be racing together—not as rivals. “We want to finally get to know each other. We’re still in shape. We want to take advantage of the chance we didn’t have when we raced,” she said. (As for the in shape comment, this is absolutely true: At 41 and 47 respectively, Jeanson and Bessette are still excellent racers.)
March 2023: The two are training in earnest, with a full season of racing coming up. "I am extremely excited to announce that Lyne and I will be adventuring together for the 2023 season,” Jeanson posted. "We will participate amongst others in @rasputitsadirt @labuckland the GBC500 with @enduranceaventure and our season goal will be the ultra endurance gravel race @badlandscc in Spain - 800km of unsupported gravel, with more than 16 000m of climbing.”
Phew. That’s a wild ride—and it’s nice to see a rivalry and such a contentious relationship have such a surprisingly happy ending.
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