Accidental figurehead: Clay Davies, the only openly gay male elite rider in the UK
Alex Ballinger talks to him about why he came out and how he’s finding life in the spotlight
Earlier this year Davies, 29, who races for the Spirit-Bontrager-BSS-Rotor elite, made a historic decision earlier this summer, as he publicly came out as gay in an interview with cycling website The British Continental. Revealing how a life-threatening crash on the bike, when his head was almost crushed after he was run down by a driver in St Albans, changed his perspective on life, Davies told the domestic cycling website: “It took quite literally nearly dying for me to reveal my sexuality.”
In doing so he became statistically something of an anomaly. As Cycling Weekly detailed in a feature in May there are currently no male WorldTour pro riders who are out, despite the chance of their being no gay men in the peloton so vanishingly small as to be close to zero, and only a very select handful of amateurs. As a consequence he’s found himself at the centre of the debate on how our sport can become a more open and inclusive place.
Now, almost two months after that first interview was published, Davies is tells Cycling Weekly, his experience of being out in the cycling world has mostly been positive.
He says: “I decided to do the interview - it’s something I was thinking about doing last year actually, but with the lockdown being announced. I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to do it last year.
“The motivation was, in my perceived view, it’s clearly an issue and I just wanted to tell people my story.”
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Despite the fairly monumental moniker as Britain’s first openly gay elite male racer, it’s his confidence that struck me during our hour-long conversation. For Davies it’s not the title that matters, instead it’s the knowledge that he is who he is, and it’s the world that now needs to accept him.
In the peloton
Davies’ cycling career dates back to his childhood in rural Hertfordshire, where he used the bike to get around with no easy transport links, which eventually developed into a mountain bike career. Transferring to the road, Davies found his place in the peloton in 2019, when he joined the now-defunct Flamme Rouge team in 2020, before his switch to Spirit for the 2021 season.
Cycling also had an impact on Davies’ coming out story, as he decided to stop hiding his sexuality after he came within inches of dying around six years ago, when he was knocked off his bike by a car, after the driver drove into him while pulling into a petrol station in St Albans, Hertfordshire.
His head became trapped under the wheels of the vehicle and he suffered two broken arms. It was during the recovery from the devastating crash that Davies decided to come out.
“I had an epiphany in that moment that I was going to start telling people. I had been dating guys super secretly, which is a constant drain on your energy, because you’re constantly worrying ‘what if someone sees me’. So I started telling people, but the cycling community was probably the last to find out.”
We wonder what was Davies’ experience of the cycling world, while hiding his sexuality?
“Every time you meet someone new, every time it comes up in conversation you have to come out to them, so I’ve come out to hundreds of people - it gets a bit draining.
“Cyclists can be a bit of a funny bunch, so typically I didn’t tell, or make it obvious to, any of the cycling world. A guy I was dating messaged me the other day and said ‘does this explain why, when we were dating, you never wanted me to come to bike races?’”
The reaction from the cycling world has mostly been a pleasant surprise since the publication of that first interview. Davies says his phone did not stop ringing for days after, all with overwhelming support - apart from one person.
Davies says the manager of a British cycling team sent him a message veiled in homophobia, saying: “I don’t get this fashion for everyone having to push their sexuality onto each other.” Davies recalls his reaction: “In 20 years, that may well be the case, but as we stand now, it’s clearly an issue isn’t it?”
Despite that unwelcome feedback, Davies’ coming out in the cycling world has had a very real impact on his fellow cyclists: “I’ve had a few people come out to me, asking for advice, cyclists and non-cyclists.”
While improving diversity has been an important topic over the last few years, there are a number of initiatives paving the way for a more inclusive sport.
Pride Out is a new and inclusive cycling group set up for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and asexual people (LGBTQIA+) and allies across the UK, welcoming everyone regardless of their gender identity, sexuality, ethnicity, age, or ability. This group organised a open letter calling for more action from cycling’s governing bodies on LGBTQIA+ issues that was signed by, among others, Olympic gold medalist Callum Skinner and decorate ex-pro Pippa York. On the competitive side, All In Racing is another grassroots initiative launched to improve LGBT visibility in the racing world.
Reflecting on the further change he’d like to see, Davies says: “Can you imagine Ineos Grenadiers, for UK Pride Month next year, being a British-based team, changing their logo to a rainbow logo - I think that would send a huge message out to the cycling world.
“WorldTour teams, brands, Trek, Specialized, or even Canyon-Sungod, I think it’s realistic for them to start [doing something]. I don’t think we could expect overnight change. I’m being realistic here and I work for a very large organisation, I get that things are tricky. But that is a start, then you can integrate it more over time, it feels more natural then.”
Davies’ story has already been noticed by those at the top of the sport. In response to him and other reports of homophobia and transphobia in the sport Brian Facer, chief executive of British Cycling, said: “It has been deeply worrying to read in recent weeks reports about the homophobia and transphobia to which some of our fellow cyclists have been subjected. We have reached out to the individuals concerned – or where the reports are from unnamed people, asked for more information in order to take further action.
“Despite the fact that a number of people have bravely come forward to share their experiences, we aren’t yet seeing that translate into formal complaints which will enable our compliance team to investigate and take the appropriate action.
“We must do more to understand why that is not happening but I wanted to take an opportunity to say this: homophobia and transphobia are not acceptable in our sport.”
British Cycling has encouraged anyone who has experienced transphobia or homophobia in cycling to report it, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Davies explains the need to hide their sexuality could be holding back gay riders from reaching the top of the sport: “I’m of the view, because I’m a results driven guy, if the best rider is a straight man, that’s who you sign. If the best rider happens to be a gay man, then you sign the gay man.
“The point I’m making, out of all of this, is that the gay man might not be as good as he could be, because he’s having to hide the fact that he’s gay. That’s the crux of it really.”
This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.
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Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers. Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
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