With the transition from the old UCI to the governing body under Brian Cookson came a renewed focus on women's cycling, and the appointment of the organisation's first female Vice President, Tracey Gaudry. The 44-year-old is a relative newcomer to cycling politics, having only been on the Management Committee for less than a year, but has been a quick study since earning the backing of the Oceania confederation last December.
While women's cycling is not her only project in the UCI, it is one to which she brings a particular expertise, having been a top-level racer herself in addition to earning management degree and acting as CEO of the Amy Gillett Foundation, and she is hoping to inspire more women to put themselves forward as leaders in the sport.
Speaking to Cyclingnews at the road world championships in Florence, shortly after Cookson's election, Gaudry gave some insights into what it takes to, in the space of one year, come from a relatively small role in the sport to being a major player at a global level.
The surprise? It was largely due to Lance Armstrong, but not in the way one might expect.
"When the [USADA] Reasoned Decision was released, there were questions over anyone who was in that era. The question was, how do we move forward. I wrote to the Australian Sports Commission, Cycling Australia and a couple other bodies and said 'I have something to offer'," Gaudry told Cyclingnews.
"I was already working with [the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority], and said 'I'm not sure what it looks like, but I'm putting whatever I have forward to be part of that future'.
"When I spoke to Cycling Australia, we talked about the Oceania role, and that was the decision point: do you take that step and be put forward as a candidate?"
She did, and Cycling Australia had the faith to back her over the incumbent, Mike Turtur. By December she was Oceania president and had a seat at the UCI Management Committee. By September of the following year she was vice president.
"It was a great vote of confidence," Gaudry told Cyclingnews. "It is an honour and a privilege, but it's the confidence of the team that we can carry out the responsibility to get the job done. It's important that the team has the skills, knowledge and experience. What I bring are my skills and knowledge. Without 20 years of experience, we make up in the skills and knowledge and ability to be very clear thinking and bring many perspectives to the table. That is in anti-doping, in elite racing and in grassroots cycling and of course in gender. That's all part of the skills we need, and that's what I offer."
Getting women involved
In the UCI interview, it was announced that the World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland, is planning a training programme fully devoted to female coaches, and Gaudry reiterated the importance of getting other women to follow her own example and throw their hats into the ring, to get involved.
"For a young woman wanting to get into a cycling career, a male dominated environment can appear for some, let’s say, 'dissuasive'. There is a chance she will be overwhelmed and that she finally decides not to chase her dream. This stumbling block can be overcome if women are part of the entourage: coaches, doctors, mechanics etc."
To have women in roles other than that of riders will encourage women to stay in the sport after retiring from competition. As a pioneer for women at the UCI, Gaudry knows that how being in such a male dominated field can feel, and how important it is to remain confident.
"Every step we take in career or personal life, you have to back yourself absolutely. It's about being brave, it's the same for anybody. There's a time when you're in your comfort zone and when you're out of your comfort zone. This past year has been mostly out.
"You have a choice - you can say no, I won't try - but for the sake of the sport and because you have something to offer and contribute, put it on the line. Risk the criticism."
Gaudry admits she has been the subject of some criticism: "sometimes it's been overt, but mostly it's been silent. You can feel that. But the other side is, there has been a lot of support, not just for symbolic change, but for what we can deliver. That has helped so much.
"It's like a race, you train hard and you hope you can deliver. You get through one day and you've been knocked down, and you don't know if you can do it again tomorrow. But you get up and off you go. It's constant refreshing and rebuilding of what you can bring to the table, but having a team is important."
Since her elevation to VP in September, Gaudry and her team have made several positive changes for women's cycling: the minimum average age of 28 was abolished, freeing up teams to hire more of the talented 30-somethings who had previously been passed over. The World Cup gained another round and added sprint, mountains and young riders classifications, and a women's commission will be assembled by the year's end, drawing from all disciplines, regions and stakeholders.
"It will reflect our desire to diversify. We will have 6 or 7 members of both genders, Europeans and non-Europeans, from all disciplines, former and current athletes, National Federations, women coaches, organisers, teams and broadcasters," Gaudry said in a UCI interview.
In addition to the women's commission, there will be at least one female member of each of the UCI's commissions, and there will be interaction between them all.
"We will work with all the commissions because the rise of women's cycling must involve everybody," Gaudry said.
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