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Austin Killips becomes first trans cyclist to win UCI women's stage race

"After a week of nonsense on the internet I'm especially thankful to everyone in the peloton and sport who continues to affirm that Twitter is not real life," Killips reflected after her victory...

Austin Killips' stage-winning performance on Sunday's final climb of the Tour of the Gila was significant, not just for securing the 27-year-old the overall victory of the New Mexico-based UCI 2.2 women's event, but also for representing the first time a transgender athlete has won a UCI women's stage race.

Killips, riding for the Amy D. Foundation team, attacked clear on the final rise to the finish at Pinos Altos, winning the final stage by eight seconds from second-placed Marcela Prieto, in turn taking the overall victory by 89 seconds and earning the top share of the $35,350 (£28,145) total prize pot for the five-stage race, equal to the men's purse for the first time in the event's 36-year history.

The win has been reported far and wide, with national news outlets in the United States and here in the UK picking up the story, but addressing the outside noise and commenting on her success, Killips expressed gratitude to her fellow competitors "after a week of nonsense on the internet".

"I'm especially thankful to everyone in the peloton and sport who continues to affirm that Twitter is not real life," she wrote. "I love my peers and competitors and am grateful for every opportunity I get to learn and grow as a person and athlete on course together.

"I worked my ass off training for this and it feels f****** good to reap the fruits of the hardest block of riding I've ever completed. Hug your friends, ride bikes together, and never forget that a better world is possible.

"This win was possible thanks to the community and connections I've been fortunate enough to build over the years through bikes."

The race organisers published a statement saying the Tour of the Gila "is required to follow the rules and regulations set forth by UCI" and "all rules and regulations on racer eligibility and classification are set forth by the UCI and USA Cycling and must be followed by event organisers". 

They stressed they want to "celebrate another year of racing in Gila". "Tour of the Gila recognises the passionate debate regarding rider eligibility and classifications of riders set by UCI and USA Cycling and encourages UCI and USA Cycling to host an open discussion on the matter," they added. "All comments regarding rider eligibility should be directed to UCI and USA Cycling."

The Telegraph reports the Chicago native Killips took up cycling in 2019 before starting hormone replacement therapy and heard from Inga Thompson, a three-time US Olympian and five-time national road race champion, who said this is "cycling's equivalent of Lia Thomas", the transgender swimmer who faced similar scrutiny after winning a US college women's title last year.

"This really highlights the issues that are happening to women in cycling," Thompson suggested. "We have more than 50 transgender women in the sport. And what's going on in the background is that women are just quietly walking away. They think, 'Why bother, if it's not fair?'"

In December, Killips finished third at the US cyclocross national championships. Fourth-placed rider Hannah Arensman, pipped to a podium place by two seconds, has since walked away from the sport, a Supreme Court filing on the issue from March saying her "sister and family sobbed as they watched a man finish in front of me, having witnessed several physical interactions with him throughout the race".

"I feel for young girls learning to compete, who no longer have a fair chance at being the new record-holders and champions in cycling because men want to compete in our division," Arensman's statement, shared by the Independent Council on Women's Sports (ICONS) said.

> British Cycling's transgender and non-binary participation policy: a cyclist's experience

Addressing Arensman's retirement, Thompson claimed there is "a lot of bullying" and women who speak out "get cancelled, they get silenced, their jobs are threatened".

"If they say anything, they are eviscerated. And so, instead of fighting this, they just walk away," Thompson argued.

As per the UCI's rules, Killips is perfectly entitled to compete and abides by the requirement for transgender athletes to suppress their testosterone levels below 2.5 nanomoles per litre over a two-year period.

Speaking after the stage, Killips' directeur sportif said she was "really stoked" about the victory and pointed to the "perfect" work of the whole team to deliver the win, a view shared by the mother of Emily Bridges — the British trans cyclist who was barred from competing at the women's British Omnium Championship after British Cycling's last-minute suspension of its transgender policy.

> "Dumped by email": Mother of transgender cyclist Emily Bridges speaks out after British Cycling decision to suspend trans policy

Bridges' mother said Killips won Tour of the Gila "because [the] tactics of the team worked". "Anybody/everybody involved in cycling at an elite level knows that a GC win is always as a result of support of teammates," she wrote on Twitter. "Fab team ride. And great GC win.

"All the people rocking up who mysteriously and suddenly have an interest in women's cycling. As Julie states (and those involved in elite cycling know), Austin's GC victory was a result of a concerted team effort that came together. What a fab result."

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