Transgender cyclist Austin Killips sparks debate after winning UCI stage race

Cyclist Austin Killips rides for Nice Bikes (Instagram/austin_trace)
Cyclist Austin Killips rides for Nice Bikes (Instagram/austin_trace)

A transgender woman has won a professional stage race for the first time.

Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, defended its rules around gender identity after the 27-year-old American rider Austin Killips won stage five at the Tour of the Gila, New Mexico.

Killips’ participation stirred fresh debate on transgender athletes, and she responded on Instagram: “After a week of nonsense on the internet I’m especially thankful to everyone in the peloton and sport who continue to affirm that Twitter is not real life. I love my peers and competitors and am grateful for every opportunity I get to learn and grow as a person and athlete on course together.”

The UCI currently permits transgender women to compete in women’s races so long as they suppress their testosterone levels to 2.5 nmol/L for a 24-month period.

The policy differs from other major sports like athletics and swimming, where transgender women are excluded from women’s events, and has been criticised as unfair for non-transgender women. British Cycling also changed its rules to ban transgender women from elite races in the wake of the debate around Emily Bridges.

Olympic medallist Alison Sydor said Killips’ participation was “no different functionally than doping”, while fellow Olympian Inga Thompson accused the UCI of “killing off women’s cycling”.

But the UCI defended its rules, saying in a statement: “The UCI acknowledges that transgender athletes may wish to compete in accordance with their gender identity.

“The UCI rules are based on the latest scientific knowledge and have been applied in a consistent manner. The UCI continues to follow the evolution of scientific findings and may change its rules in the future as scientific knowledge evolves.”

Killips rides for Nice Bikes, a non-profit women’s cycling team “with a mission to support and empower women and LGBTQIA+ individuals in professional cycling [who] are historically under supported and underrepresented in sports, and we are here to redefine what it means to support pro women’s cycling.”