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Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges has insisted it is wrong to believe she would have any advantage over her rivals if she was permitted to compete in women’s races.
In March cycling’s world governing body the UCI blocked Bridges, 21, from competing at the British national omnium championships at the 11th hour amid threats of a boycott from other riders.
Had Bridges raced in Derby, she would have faced Dame Laura Kenny, sparking debate as to whether a rider who had previously set a junior men’s record and won the men’s points race at the British Universities’ championships a month before could have beaten the five-time Olympic champion.
In her first interview since that event, Bridges told DIVA magazine it was wrong to say that trans women in sport retain inherent advantages and claimed to be able to prove it.
“I understand how you’d come to this conclusion because a lot of people still view trans women as men with male anatomies and physiologies,” she said.
“But hormone replacement therapy has such a massive effect. The aerobic performance difference is gone after about four months.
“There are studies going on for trans women in sport. I’m doing one and the performance drop-off that I’ve seen is massive. I don’t have any advantage over my competitors and I’ve got data to back that up.”
Bridges had met British Cycling’s previous requirement – that riders in the female category have had testosterone levels below five nanomoles per litre for a 12-month period prior to competition – in time to race in Derby, but the UCI did not grant her a switch in licence.
During the subsequent debate, British Cycling said it was suspending its transgender policy pending a review “to find a better answer”.
Describing the lead-up to the championships, Bridges said: “Everything was kicking off saying, ‘Oh, she’s going to race and she’s going to beat Laura Kenny’. I don’t know why they were thinking that. I wasn’t doing that well.
“It’s like they automatically think I’m going to beat a multiple Olympic champion, just because I’m trans. It’s awful to be told so close to the event, having been speaking to (British Cycling) since January. We knew it would create more uproar in the media and it blew everything up even more.”
Last month two-time Olympic champion Katie Archibald criticised the UCI’s handling of Bridges’ situation while insisting it was unfair for trans women to compete in the female category.
Archibald’s statement, which said “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”, was endorsed by Kenny.
British Cycling’s head of Olympic programmes Sara Symington was among the signatories to a letter to the UCI arguing that trans women must not be allowed to compete in female events in order to “guarantee fairness for female athletes”.
Bridges, who was on British Cycling’s senior academy in 2019 and came out as a transgender woman in October 2020, said the spotlight placed on her had taken a considerable toll on her mental health.
“It’s been a struggle,” she said. “I’ve been trying to take each day by day, get through the day and get to the other side, because there’s been some pretty dark times.
“There’s so much hate and criticism that I just don’t look at it. I know it is happening and I try to have that drive me, but that’s easier said than done.”
However, she reiterated her belief that further reviews of the science will lead to a change.
“We’re the current punching bag populist movements like to go for. We are, at the moment, who the culture war is against,” Bridges added.
“Things will get better. It’s not going to be like this forever. The evidence shows that it is fair for trans women to compete in female sport. It might take a few years for things to change, but just keep going.”
:: Bridges was speaking to DIVA magazine’s published Linda Riley for their Pride Issue, which is on sale now www.divadirect.info and www.divadigital.co.uk.