Cycling race director agonizes over UCI's transgender participation policy: 'This could kill the sport'

Michael Engleman is the race director of the Tour of the Gila

Michael Engleman, the race director of the Tour of the Gila which came under fire when a transgender cyclist won the women’s overall category, spoke out about the controversy Tuesday.

Engleman told The Telegraph he had been the target of ire of the outraged after Austin Killips, a transgender female, won the final stage race and the event itself marking the first time a transgender woman had ever won a Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) stage race. 

Engelman revealed he and his staff have been on the receiving end of threats and violence and is worried about how the controversy could affect the sport.


Kasteelcross pdoium

From left to right, Belgian Marion Norbert Riberolle, Dutch Denise Betsema and American Austin Killips pictured on the podium after the women's elite race of the "Kasteelcross" cyclocross cycling event, race 7/8 in the 'Exact Cross' competition, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023 in Zonnebeke, Belgium. (DAVID PINTENS/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

"This could kill the sport," he told the outlet.

He added, "I know how hard it is to get people to put money into a women’s team, at any level. And now they’re asking, ‘Is this something I can touch?' What if an athlete says the wrong thing? This is harming the sport. It’s a reality that somebody has to speak about."

He said it will be up to the UCI to make a decisive decision about its transgender participation policy. He said he contacted USA Cycling to make a statement on Killips’ involvement but claimed his request denied "because it was so sketchy to talk about."

The UCI, the world governing body for sports cycling, initially defended its participation policy but appeared to change its tone on Thursday, according to The Guardian.


Austin Killips in January 2023

Austin Killips on the podium after the women's elite race of the "Kasteelcross" cyclocross in January 2023. (DAVID PINTENS/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

"The UCI’s objective remains the same: to take into consideration, in the context of the evolution of our society, the desire of transgender athletes to practice cycling," the organization said. "The UCI also hears the voices of female athletes and their concerns about an equal playing field for competitors and will take into account all elements, including the evolution of scientific knowledge.

The UCI tightened its rules for transgender female riders to compete against biological females in its events. According to Reuters, the organization halved the maximum permitted plasma testosterone level to 2.5 nanomoles per liter and doubled the transition period to 24 months.

Engelman was the director of U.S. women’s cycling development for six years and is concerned about Killips’ sudden rise in the sport and what it could mean for biological female riders.

"I have worked with some of the best female cyclists in the world, and I saw them do extraordinary things right from the beginning," he told The Telegraph. "And here’s somebody who nobody has ever heard of, who in a first UCI stage race [the 2022 Tour of the Gila] comes third. It hardly ever happens. Austin was also third in a time trial on a non-time trial bike. So, it makes you wonder. I’m a performance person. You look at that and you say, ‘That’s not right

Killips dismissed the uproar as "nonsense" in an Instagram post.

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