Women’s cycling really is taking a big step forward in its transition to becoming a more professional and respected sport. It’s about to be restructured with teams able to gain World Tour status just like they have in men’s cycling. Many other strategies have been put in place to gain more public exposure and increase media interest with major stand alone events like the ‘Aviva Women’s Tour’ bringing huge crowds, and not just from men’s spectators watching whilst they wait. On the surface it all appears to be moving in the right direction, but other aspects of women’s cycling seem to be going unnoticed, simply shoved under the carpet. That’s what brings me to this, speaking out about my pathway as a female professional cyclist over the last couple of years since the London 2012 Olympics and into the next Olympic cycle.
In 2014 I signed a UCI contract for a Mexican registered team run essentially by Italians. I didn’t know much about the management when I signed, yet I felt safe and assured as it was granted UCI status being registered as a UCI team and that it would therefore have to live up to UCI rules, regulations and standards; sadly this did not happen. I began to race with the team at the end of February and other than a few minor things it was going as expected with a pro team; I was racing regularly and had the proper equipment. It came to June 15th and following that days race in Switzerland I was dropped off at the airport by my Italian team director, an older guy who smokes 30 a day, who told me as I got out of the car that I should not even be a cyclist. He went on to tell me he doesn’t know why I even bother and that if I wanted to get any salary I would have to move to a team house in Bergamo and live and train alone everyday. I was told I wouldn’t be racing again that season and only after I did all of this I might receive my salary. I entered the airport with only my bike frame as I was not allowed to take any wheels after being repeatedly told and that I would not be coming to a race again with the team.
What had just happened? What was this, blackmail? This is my job, my career, my life. I want to race, that’s what I signed a UCI contract to do; it’s what my life is all about. I have just been told from my employer straight to my face that I am not allowed to race again, with no warning, no reasoning. There wasn’t room for discussion and I was in shock. That shock was compounded by the fact that I had been lucky enough to come through the British Cycling system, which is professional in every way, and I was simply shocked that this opposite level of professionalism even existed.
Once I arrived home numerous emails went back and forth between me and the team (I was asked to speak on the phone but I didn’t need to listen to this, I wanted written conversations). To let you in on the kind of correspondence I received, here is one example:
“I think You don’t understaading You receive the money when You come in the house of the team!!
Only your problem is take the money and no the work!!
Is no possible take the money without work!!
Your problem is the race? But this year you start in 10 races and You have 12 crash!!
I talk a lot of Time (and send email) with You for serch the resolution of the problem but You don’t serch this You serch only the money!”
25/7/14 at 17:00
By this point I really was in shock about what was happening but more importantly in fear for how was I suppose to race; I wanted to race, money was a secondary issue. According to the UCI rules and my contract that I was under with team Estado de Mexico until December 31 2014, I couldn’t race with another team or even with the federation without permission, yet they are telling me I cannot race again and it’s only June. I had my whole season left.
I went on to seek advice and I sent my first email to the UCI on 24th of June. I was advised to speak to various people, including legal experts. I continued to do so week after week, email after email and as the months went by I was beginning to loose hope as nothing was being done, nothing was progressing and I was no closer to being allowed to race again. Would this be the end of my career all because of one man? No! I continued to train and keep fit and was lucky enough to have a huge support network around me helping me stay motivated and on the bike. The hardest part was trying to live, after only receiving salary payments for the three months March, April, May I was having to dig into my saving which luckily enough I had but certainly wasn’t ideal. It’s not like you can just cancel all of your bills, rent payments etc I had commitments and contracts, I don’t just live at home with my parents, yet this guy is was allowed to cut my salary, just like that.
After the year concluded nothing was achieved with this case. I hadn’t raced since June, how was I ever suppose to continue within the sport, no team would have seen me race so why would they sign me. I was certainly well off the road to Rio, having competed at London 2012 it was well into the next Olympic cycle and yet here I was. They say you get good thing when you need them most and I still can’t believe how timing worked out, as it just so happened that ‘Matrix Vulpine’ a British women’s team had decided to step up to UCI level for 2015 with new sponsors and a full race programme. I was thrown a lifeline and following discussions signed with Matrix Fitness. It was back to Britain, or at least Belgium where the team is based, and back to a respected secure environment that follows the rules and actually tries to develop and progress riders built on passion not just their sound business concept.
It’s been a slow and steady progression to get back into race shape after missing eight months of racing but with the support and backing from the team I was recently able to take 5th in a UCI race. Not a win, not a podium but back near the front of the race which was such a great feeling and one which at times last year I never thought could happen again.
I decided this was the best time to retell what happened after my latest phone conversion with the UCI, which has kind of concluded the case. I was advised that taking legal action against my former team would be costly and high risk and simply not worth doing seeing as I already have missed nine months salary. So that option has gone. As this has taken so long, my second option to pursue payment via the UCI Bank Guarantee put in place under the UCI rules was also not an option, as that has now expired. In any case, the UCI informed me it was likely the bank guarantee for the team was never in fact set up and even if it was, it is so difficult to communicate with the Mexican Federation and the fact that there be other creditors owed this money, that this isn’t really an option and that is impossible to receive.
So in a time the sport is moving forward a huge rate, we still have massive issue with the here and now to deal with. If it’s a rule that there is a guarantee, lets make sure it’s in place.
UCI rule Article 2.17.017 :
For each registration year, a UCI women’s or continental team or any team applying for this status must set up an unconditional bank guarantee (comprehensive guarantee) in favour of its national federation, using the model set out in article. 2.17.029.
I am forever grateful for my pathway into the sport through British Cycling and the professionalism of the federation and the opportunities I have been given. Likewise joining Matrix Fitness for this year and being supported and encourage to continue within the sport and given the most professional of environments. I cannot let experiences like mine and many others who have not shared them go unnoticed and forgotten about. This is elite women’s sport and it’s supposed to be the highest level of female cycling and yet this can happen and nobody has the power to help. It’s simply just how it is. That’s not good enough and in our transition into a World Tour environment, we need to make sure standards are raised, not only for the World Tour, but for what will become division two teams under the same current regulations that have failed me.
I think the sport itself deserves more if it is ever going to see real progress.