The duo were withdrawn from the race by their team ahead of the start and the UCI subsequently announced that the incident had been referred to its Disciplinary Commission.
A statement posted to both Thijssen and Mihkels’ social media channels revealed the pair’s acceptance of their expulsion from the Tour of Guangxi and how they would learn from the mistake going forward.
“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,” said Thijssen and Mihkels in a joint statement.
“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.”
Intermarché-Circus-Wanty swiftly responded to the racist post and, despite not initially including Thijssen’s withdrawal in their statement, did take the Belgian sprinter out of the race too as the gesture was posted to his Instagram profile, which has since been deleted.
The pair stressed that any harm done was not intentional and that they realised that what they had done was incorrect.
“We felt honoured to be invited to participate in the Tour of Guangxi,” the pair said. “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.”
Belgian sprinter Thijssen was set to lead the team throughout the mainly flat six stages of racing in China with Mihkels as one of his domestiques, with their dismissal leaving the team with a five-rider roster.
The first sprint stage was won by Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers), with Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious) in second and Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) in third.
Some words about what happened yesterday pic.twitter.com/h1L7o0Qxi0October 12, 2023