Swiss cyclist Nicole Hanselmann is calling for women to be allowed to compete against men, after she was held back at a race in Belgium last weekend
An elite cyclist was forced to stop racing during an event in Belgium last week, after catching up with the men’s peloton ahead.
Nicole Hanselmann, 27, had broken away to lead the women’s race, around 30 kilometres into the annual Spring Classic competition, when she began to gain on the back of the men’s race – which had started eight minutes before her own.
At this point, officials from the event stepped in “for safety reasons”, and asked the former Switzerland road champion to pause at a level crossing while the gap was restored.
In a statement on Twitter, organisers said the women’s race had been neutralised due to “a very slow men’s race”.
However, Hanselmann later speculated on Instagram that perhaps “the other women and me were too fast”. In a post with the hashtag #womenpower, she described the incident as “awkward”.
The cyclist was allowed to resume the race after five minutes but ended up in 74th place, and blamed the delay for causing her to lose momentum.
Hanselmann is now calling for women to be allowed to compete alongside men in long-distance cycling events.
“I think we have the same endurance as men,” she tells The Times. “I’m not sure if we’re faster in a race for 200km but I think for sure we could do the same distances, but they just don’t let us show this because women are not allowed to compete in races that are as long.”
Hanselmann hints that male pride may play a role in the decision to limit distances in women’s races, and keep them separate from men’s events.
“It’s always funny when you go training and you go past men, usually amateurs,” she says.
“Mentally, they don’t want to get passed by women, especially riding uphill. They try to overtake you again to show how strong they are.”
This practice of a man being outstripped by a woman at an athletics event is known as “being chicked”. And, as Boston Globe reporter Shira Springer points out, it often prompts “respect tinged with concern” or “praise via backhanded compliment”.
In 2017, American skier Lindsey Vonn, regarded as one of the greatest racers of all time, submitted a request to the International Ski Federation (ISF) to compete against men.
Her motion was tabled indefinitely by the ISF, in a sign of the formidable battle that female athletes like Vonn and Hanselmann face.
Until more women gain representation on sports panels that govern such decisions – or more men decide they don’t need to feel threatened by female strength and skill – the fight will continue for now.