‘Cycling’s Lia Thomas moment’: Transgender rider wins women’s Tour of the Gila – next stop Olympics?
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In what has been described as a “Lia Thomas moment” for cycling, transgender rider Austin Killips has won the women’s event at the Tour of the Gila, the premier road race in New Mexico.
It is the most significant result yet for Killips, a 27-year-old transgender woman from Chicago, who also won a medal in the women’s cyclocross at the US National Championships in December. She is tipped to challenge for a place at the Tour de France Femmes in July and at next year’s Paris Olympics.
Austin Killips wins stage five at the Tour of the Gila.Credit: Tour of the Gila
This year’s Tour of the Gila, which concluded on Monday (Tuesday AEST), marked the first time in the event’s 36-year history that equal prizemoney had been offered, with a total purse of $US35,350 ($53,300) in both the men’s and women’s races. Killips, who began cycling in 2019 before starting hormone replacement therapy, earned almost $15,100 for finishing top of the women’s general classification, plus a $1500 bonus as “Queen of the Mountains”.
“Austin is cycling’s equivalent of Lia Thomas,” Inga Thompson, a three-time US Olympian and five-time national road race champion, told London’s Telegraph. Thomas won a US women’s collegiate title in swimming last year, in the 200-yard freestyle, having been ranked 554th in the country in the equivalent male category.
“This really highlights the issues that are happening to women in cycling,” Thompson said. “And what’s going on in the background is that women are just quietly walking away. They think, ‘Why bother, if it’s not fair.’”
Killips’ name came to wider attention in March, after being cited by former cyclocross champion Hannah Arensman in a US Supreme Court filing explaining why she was retiring from the sport at 24. Arensman lost out on a podium place to Killips in December’s national finals, later accusing her opponent of repeatedly shoving her during the race – a claim Killips denied.
Austin Killips (centre) on the podium after a stage victory in New Mexico.Credit: Tour of the Gila
“I have decided to end my cycling career,” Arensman said. “My sister and family sobbed as they watched a man finish in front of me, having witnessed several physical interactions with him during the race. I feel for young girls learning to compete, who no longer have a fair chance at being the new record holders and champions in cycling because men want to compete in our division.”
Amid the Killips controversy, Thompson, who came third at the women’s Tour de France in 1986 and 1989, argued the pattern was becoming more common.
“These women are young, and there’s a lot of bullying,” she said. “They get cancelled, they get silenced, their jobs are threatened. They get put on the TERF [trans-exclusionary radical feminist] list. If they say anything, they are eviscerated. And so, instead of fighting this, they just walk away.”
Killips is a candidate for the US women’s cycling team at next year’s Olympics, should global governing body the International Cycling Union (known as the UCI), maintain its policy of allowing transgender riders to compete so long as they suppress their testosterone levels to below 2.5 nanomoles per litre over a two-year period. The average testosterone level for women is between 0.5 and 2.4 nmol/l. One study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has suggested that transgender women are stronger and maintain better heart and lung capacity than cisgender women, even 14 years after taking hormone therapy. However, data on transgender athletes in elite sport is limited.
“I expect Austin to win the Joe Martin Stage Race [in Arkansas] this month, then potentially to go on to the Tour de France Femmes and the Paris Olympics,” Thompson said. “That’s just common sense. After all the UCI races, the national championships, why not? The Olympics just aren’t spoken about yet because there would be a really big backlash.”
Killips is allowed to compete as a consequence of the UCI’s transgender policy, which is at odds with World Athletics’ approach of banning all post-puberty males from the female category. There has been sustained lobbying by female riders for an outright ban. Last year, France’s triple world champion Marion Clignet presented the UCI with a survey showing 92 per cent did not agree with trans athletes racing in the women’s peloton.
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