Riders have spoken out about the "hateful agenda" of mainstream media after trans cyclist Emily Bridges won a fixed gear crit race which was run - as advertised - outside of traditional gender categories.
The Daily Mail (opens in new tab) and Daily Express (opens in new tab), among other titles, published articles after the 'Thundercrit' race hosted by 'NLTCBMBC' (North London ThunderCat Black Metal Bicycle Club).
Bridges won the 'Lightning Category', which was advertised in advance as being open to "trans men and women whose physical performance aligns most closely with cis-women", and had seven entrants in total.
Lilly Chant - who identifies as female - was second. Third place went to cis-female and NLTCBMBC fixed crit racer, Jo Smith. The Mail stated that the race had the result of "leaving [the] young mother in third", choosing to publish the story with a podium shot of Bridges and Chant kissing, alongside Smith, carrying her child to the podium.
The Express said that "the gold and silver podium winners were both male-born", adding "the gold medal went to Emily Bridges."
No medals were awarded. Rather than lamenting being "left" in third place, Smith celebrated the result, telling Cycling Weekly: "I was happy to be on the podium."
Discussing the racing format, she added: "This was an event with a different setup, open to all across the two categories, and not a women's race. It's also not a race that is going to get anyone a professional contract, sponsor or any kind of huge reward, financial or otherwise."
Commenting on the reporting and response to the race results, she said: "I was absolutely furious about the media, and a huge amount of individuals on Twitter, using this race result to 'prove' their agenda. There's no way the national news would be interested in a small, unsanctioned fixed crit on a Friday in any other circumstance!
"The media have used a result blindly to fuel their agenda," Smith concluded.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly and referring specifically to the Daily Mail's article, Bridges said: "We [the riders] will not and have not been divided to further their hateful agenda."
She added: "Thundercrit was an amazing event where there was so much solidarity and respect between all women, men and non-binary riders, and the Mail's reporting has only brought us closer together."
Fixed gear crit racing is an independent genre of bike racing, not sanctioned by British Cycling - which currently does not permit trans women to compete in the female category while it reviews its transgender inclusion policy.
The races, run at Herne Hill Velodrome and organised by NLTCBMBC, were specifically designed to be inclusive, regardless of gender. "We say goodbye to gendered race categories. The men’s race and women’s race are no more," the club explained when outlining its categories.
The 'Lightning category' was created for "cis-women [women assigned female at birth], non-binary people whose physical performance aligns with cis-women and trans men and women whose physical performance aligns most closely with cis-women."
Those seeking a traditional format would have been able to enter Herne Hill Velodrome's own crit race series, taking place that same evening, with races for men, women and youth riders.
Fourth place at Thundercrit's 'Lightning Category' race went to Kitty Dennis. The 26-year-old told Cycling Weekly that she was "delighted with the format" of the racing.
Asked if she believed the reporting from mainstream titles following the event was fair and representative, Dennis said: "absolutely not."
"As a cis-woman I felt happy to compete and didn't feel it was unfair," Dennis told Cycling Weekly.
"This isn’t a serious sporting competition," she added, "it’s about having fun and spending time with your friends! I can understand there being a time and a place to explore new competitive categories and a low-stakes, community run event where all the competitors are keen to help find solutions seems like the right place for it."
Dennis, who first raced in 2018, said she was "not qualified" to comment on trans participation in sport and how it impacts cis-women, but could only comment on how she perceived "fair competition" within fixed gear racing.
"In fixed gear racing everyone is an amateur," she said "you get couriers on the start line with elite athletes from a different cycling discipline, it often just depends on who shows up that day. We’re not competing for a pro contract, we’re there to have fun. One day you can win, the next a pro road racer in the off-season could lap the entire race field."
On Saturday, May 28, Bridges raced at the 'Fixed Beers Crit League' organised by Clash Racing, taking third place, with Chant in first, and cis-female Niki Kovacs in second.
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Bridges said she was "relentlessly harassed and demonised" by the media, after she was stopped from competing at the National Omnium Championships, by the UCI. Following the decision, British Cycling chose to review its transgender policy.
Two-time Olympic track champion Katie Archibald criticised British Cycling, and other governing bodies, for having "let down transgender athletes, in particular transgender women, with their inclusion policies", referring to the "intense scrutiny" suffered by athletes as their "personal lives" were placed "on to the pages of tabloid newspapers."
Archibald also said she felt personally let down by the handling of the situation, adding: "The retained advantage of people who have gone through male puberty in strength, stamina, and physique, with or without testosterone suppression, has been well documented," she said, adding "cycling's global governing body, by its president's own admission, knows this. But they chose to delay action until it became sadly personal for one rider. That wasn't fair."
NLTCBMBC rider Jess Morgan, who was the instigator behind introducing gender-neutral categories, said following the event: "Thundercrit became the target of a lot of transphobic hate this weekend because of who podiumed in one of our races. I’m so proud of how the team responded.
"You don’t have to have all the answers to support the idea that trans and non-binary riders should be able to participate in the sport they love, and it’s up to us as a community to support that and find a way for that to happen that is fair for everyone."
Speaking to Cycling Weekly, Bridges applauded the event, and her fellow competitors, saying: "Thundercrit and the NLTCBMBC have created a potential solution through two inclusive categories to encourage more grassroots inclusion in cycling, and that was demonstrated by the incredible diversity of riders and fans that were there."
She added: "I congratulate all the riders that raced and thank everyone for making it such a great event, it wouldn't have been the same without you."
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.
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