Lizzie Armitstead has spoken of her ‘disappointment’ in the UCI presidential candidate Brian Cookson, for failing to do more for women’s cycling.
The Olympic road race silver medallist and British national champion says that Cookson has not addressed her and other female road cyclists’ concerns about sexism in the sport, accusing him of only listening to track riders including Jo Rowsell and Laura Trott, whose track careers do not face the same limitations.
She told the Observer: "I'm disappointed because I sat down and spoke to Brian [Cookson]. I think he's a good bloke but I pulled out of a race this week [the Tour of Tuscany] because we were facing open traffic and then to read there aren't issues in women's cycling ... I have no problem with equality on the track but I am a road rider and it is very, very different."
These issues, she said, were highlighted in the Tuscan Tour, where the major teams chose to boycott the final stage over safety issues - halving the field of riders.
She explained: "It was scary. We were going between two lines of traffic as if we were commuting, but with numbers on our backs. There was a protected window for the break of six – everyone else had to fend for themselves."
It’s the second situation of its kind this season, with Armistead’s Boels-Dolman team and Marianne Vos’s Rabobank pulling out of the Tour of Languedoc earlier this year, again over safety concerns.
Armitstead said: "There are some races that should not be allowed to go on in this way. I don't know what goes through the minds of the organisers. Tuscany is a memorial race for Michaela Fanini, who was killed by a car. It's been going 15 years so it's a lot of commitment from the organisers, but I don't understand what has to be explained."
Following the Tuscan Tour pullout, Vos tweeted: "Quitted #GiroToscana as a protest against dangerous race situations in previous stages. Tough decision while in the lead, but safety first!"
Lauren Kitchen, who rides for Wiggle-Honda, added: "No start today in Toscana. Safety needs to assured before we can race."
Armitstead's comments come in the wake of a Guardian interview with Brian Cookson, in which he said of Nicole Cooke, who criticised the lack of support she had receieved from British Cycling:
"Nicole has her point-of-view on lots of things and she didn't always see eye-to-eye with British Cycling.
"But we went out of our way to support her in the best way we could. Elite athletes are interesting, aren't they? They have personalities that are sometimes difficult to handle – and Nicole is one of those people who has a particular view of things which she's absolutely entitled to."
It's disconcerting how many other prominent women – Victoria Pendleton, Emma Pooley and Lizzie Armitstead – have also criticised British Cycling. "That's true. But if you speak to Laura Trott or Jo Rowsell you'll hear another view."
It’s not only Cookson and British Cycling Armitstead has beef with. She has called on both the UCI presidential candidates, Pat McQuaid and Brian Cookson, to commit to forcing men’s World Tour teams to sponsor a women’s squad.
It is, she said, far more achievable than anyone seems to think.
She said: "Teams like Sky or any ProTour team are putting in over €10m: it would take about €500,000 to run a women's team. That would allow more women to be full-time professionals and the level will increase within a year."
She’s disappointed too in Sir Dave Brailsford and Sky Pro Cycling, who refused to invest in a women’s Sky team - despite Cookson lobbying for it.
"They should have done it. Great Britain is one of the leading cycling nations in the world and it would have been great if they had set an example. But you have to be realistic. Cycling is a business. Unless rules are in place to make sure they invest, they won't do it."
It’s not all doom and gloom for Armitstead however. With the news that the Tour of Britain intends to upgrade its women’s involvement from a one-hour criterium this year to a five-day women’s Tour next May - she’s encouraged, having spent the months since her Olympic success pushing, along with other women cyclists, for a women’s Tour de France.
She said: “If there is a women's Tour of Britain next season I would base half my year around trying to win it."
Lizzie Armitstead and Emma Trott are among the six Boels-Dolmans riders who will take part in the World Championship team time trial - open to trade teams - in Tuscany today.
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.