Victories by transgender cyclists prompt protests about 'unfair advantage'

Tiffany Thomas celebrating
Tiffany Thomas celebrating

The debate over transgender inclusion in sport has intensified after a male-born cyclist won a prestigious women's amateur race.

Tiffany Thomas, 46, a scientist who rides for the US-based professional team LA Sweat, won the Randall’s Island Criterium Race over the weekend in New York. Celebrating her victory on Instagram, Thomas wrote that she felt "like a superhero" racing in the team colours.

Thomas's victory came on the same weekend that there were online protests about the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships in Hartford, where transgender riders were included. Austin Killips finished third in the women’s elite race – behind Clara Honsinger and Raylyn Nuss – becoming the first transgender woman to win a medal at the event. Jenna Lingwood, another trans athlete, finished fifth.

Hannah Arensman, who was fourth, later announced her retirement from the sport. She said that it had “become increasingly discouraging” to train and then lose to someone with an “unfair advantage”.

Anna Megale, who finished sixth, told Cycling Weekly that a part of her felt “conflicted” but that she was “super supportive of all athletes” and that the trans riders deserved their opportunity.

Cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale, has allowed trans women to compete provided that their total testosterone level has been below 2.5nmol/L for a period of at least 24 months. This policy was updated last year from a limit of 5nmol/L over 12 months, but differs from sports like swimming and rugby which have effectively banned transgender athletes from the women’s category by saying that they must have transitioned by the age of 12 or before experiencing any stage of puberty.

World Athletics may change trans policy

The events in cycling come before a new policy decision at World Athletics. The governing body has outlined a “preferred option” that is in line with cycling, rather than swimming, but the issue will be debated on Thursday by the World Athletics Council.

The swimmer, Sharron Davies, said on Thursday that it would be “utter cowardice” and a “let down” to women if they do formally adopt cycling’s 2.5 nmol/L limit.

Lord Coe, the World Athletics president, has said that “biology trumps identity” but stressed he wants the sport to be “guided by the science”.