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Cyclist Lizzie Armitstead on the sport’s culture of sexism: “They let me down big time”

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Amy Swales
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Weeks after Jess Varnish called for cycling’s entire governing body to step down over the “cover up” of the industry’s sexism problem, another top UK cyclist has spoken out about her experiences of discrimination.

Olympian and Road Cycling World Championships 2015 winner Lizzie Armitstead has spoken of inequality in equipment and coaching – including the revelation that on the day she became road race champion, her own coach didn’t even deign to be there, instead prioritising the men’s junior team.

Speaking to The Guardian, she said she was “really disappointed” at the snub: “I’d done everything right going into that competition and I just needed them to get it right for me on the day.

“And they didn’t. There was a lack of leadership. They let me down big time.”

But one of her most disturbing recollections involved being told to attend a party for a male cyclist.

lizzie armitstead

Armitstead competing in 2014

Armitstead, 28, was speaking ahead of the release of her autobiography this month, Steadfast: My Autobiography, in which, according to the paper, she describes a night when she was touring with a professional team, and had gone to bed.

She was reportedly woken up by one of the management team, who told her to go to the bar where one of the male cyclists was having a birthday party. Then aged 19, Armitstead was the only woman there, and writes that she was “left with no choice” but to dance with him on a Nintendo Wii – later realising that her rising feeling of discomfort at being watched by the rest of the male team was at being used like, as The Guardian describes it, a ‘plaything’: “It was only later, when I really thought about it, I thought, ‘No, that wasn’t a laugh.’”

Another issue, though one that has since been resolved, was the huge gender pay gap. Armitstead (now known as Deignan, but using Armitstead for the book) explained: “My prize money for winning the 2015 world championship was £2,000, and the men’s was £20,000. But the good thing from that is this year it changed. We have equal money.”



Last month, fellow cyclist Varnish called for the resignation of the entire board of British Cycling after a leaked draft report investigating claims of bullying and discrimination seemed to back up allegations she made last year against former technical director Shane Sutton.

Varnish, 26, accused Sutton of, among other things, telling her to “go and have a baby” when informing her she was being dropped from the elite programme ahead of the Rio Olympics (which he denies). Her claims led to other athletes discussing a culture of sexism in the sport, and an independent inquiry was established.

The leaked draft accused the board of “sanitising” and “reversing” the findings of an initial internal investigation into her sacking in order to protect the sport’s image.

Varnish said last month: “There needs to be changes. These people can’t be still in there if they’ve reversed facts. They can’t still be able to be on that board. There needs to be an entire overhaul.”

Read Armitstead’s full interview at theguardian.com.

Images: Rex

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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.

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