Lizzie Deignan has spoken about her experiences of sexism in cycling, which include her British Cycling coach not being there when she became world champion in 2015 after prioritising the men’s junior team.
Speaking to the Guardian ahead of the release of her autobiography – written as Lizzie Armitstead with the newspaper’s William Fotheringham – Deignan said of Brian Stephens’ absence: “I was really disappointed, because 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.”
Deignan also describes being “left with no choice” but to dance with a male team-mate for his birthday after being woken up at 11.30pm by a senior manager when riding for the Cervelo team.
Just 19 at the time, she says she was the only woman there, and after taking part in a Nintendo Wii dance competition while other male riders sat on bar stools and watched, she said she felt confused and foolish, but didn’t know why.
“It was only later, when I really thought about it, I thought, ‘No, that wasn’t a laugh’.”
However, Deignan points to differences in pay and prize money as having been the major inequality throughout her career. “My prize money for winning the 2015 world championship was £2,000, and the men’s was £20,000,” she said. “But the good thing from that is this year it changed. We have equal money.”
Deignan’s comments about British Cycling echo those made earlier in the year by former Olympic champion Nicole Cooke, who said that the sport was run "by men, for men."
Giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Cooke said it was for this reason that the then British Women’s Road Team Coach, Simon Cope, abandoned his formal duties to spend four days delivering the infamous Jiffy bag to Team Sky at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné.
In contrast, the recently-retired double Olympic champion, Joanna Rowsell Shand, this week defended British Cycling, telling the Times that she never personally experienced any sexism during her 10-year career.
"I've come through the whole system and won two Olympic gold medals and I wouldn't have been able to do that if I'd experienced sexism.
"I didn't fear British Cycling. I accepted the commitment that was needed... and dedicated a decade of my life to it. I came out with some good results and I'm glad I did it.
"British Cycling is not perfect and people's complaints need to be addressed, but they have done a lot of good."
Rowsell Shand also said she regretted not giving her opinion when invited to contribute to UK Sport's independent review.
"In terms of the review, I was sent an email in June last year, less than two months out from the Olympics... I was very focused on Rio and didn't realise how important the review would become.
"In hindsight, I should have offered an opinion, which would have provided some balance. I had the impression from the email that they only wanted to hear from people if they had something to report."