The UCI Cyclo-cross World Cups in the US are two of the biggest weekends of racing for North American cyclo-cross, and at Jingle Cross in Iowa City, riders competed across three days with three separate UCI events - but by many accounts, the weekend's party atmosphere was tainted by sexist comments made by announcer Larry Longo during the women's races.
Jingle Cross promoter John Meehan took swift action on Monday to sever ties with Longo, issuing a statement calling the comments "in poor taste and offensive", and telling Cyclingnews that the comments were not consistent with the family atmosphere his event hoped to foster.
"We are aware of offensive remarks made by one of our PA announcers at the Jingle Cross event this weekend in Iowa City. The individual who made the remarks was hired as in independent contractor by us, Jingle Cross, Inc., to serve as live commentator during all USA Cycling and UCI race events," the statement read.
"The remarks were in poor taste and offensive. They do not align with the ideals of Jingle Cross, our staff, management, or the hundreds of volunteers that help us create this incredible event. The announcer has been notified of the issues and the matter has been handled accordingly. He has been informed that he will no longer be a race announcer at Jingle Cross. We regret this incident and apologize to our riders, spectators, fans, and guests."
Fellow announcer Brad Sohner confirmed the accuracy of complaints posted on Instagram by Lindsay Knight, 34, of Chicago.
"Over the past three days, I - and countless other women in the [category] 1/2s race - have been told to smile, look 'like we're having fun,' been referred to as 'the wives having a miserable time,' and (today) told that we can 'limp through our last two laps'," Knight wrote.
The complaints were echoed by fellow category 1,2 racer Leslie Ethridge, 28, of Colorado, who took to Twitter, writing, "My favorite 'rage moment' was when we were pitting in the 1,2 race and the hose went a little cray [crazy] and he said, 'Well I guess that's what you get when your girlfriend pits for you'."
Longo did not immediately respond to Cyclingnews' request for comment.
Women cyclists have fought back for years against discrimination in the sport, only earning a spot in the Olympic Games in cycling in 1984. The addition of a women's field to the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cups came 10 years after the first men's series in 2002.
Since then, the fight has continued to grow the women's side of the sport, adding a push for equal prize purses and pay. The UCI recently announced it would take steps toward a minimum salary for women professional road racers that would be on par with the top men by 2023.
But women still battle perceptions that they are less skilled, their races less interesting or less important. In 2016, the "Everyday Sexism" movement went viral, bringing to light the numerous grievances, such as the ones expressed by Knight, that men often dismiss as jokes.
When Knight tagged USA Cycling in her post, the issue was quickly picked up by the federation, which replied to posts on social media with the statement: "While we do not hire the announcers at any races other than our National Championships we take the comments extremely seriously and we have been in touch with the Race Director, after bringing the issues to his attention and he is taking steps to ensure this doesn't happen again."
Federations are taking matters like these more seriously, in particular since the British Cycling sexism scandal that erupted after complaints by track sprinter Jess Varnish against coach Shane Sutton were corroborated by her fellow Olympians. A report from the Netherlands found that bullying and intimidation were widespread in the sport, and USA Cycling dismissed its women's track coach for employment policy violations amid allegations of emotional abuse.
Sohner said he felt some responsibility for not stopping Longo from continuing to make offensive comments over the public address system.
"There is no place in the sport for some of the comments made over the weekend, and I hope they are not viewed as representative of the staff, volunteers, and sponsors of Jingle Cross, or me personally," Sohner told Cyclingnews.
"I regret not doing more to step up and address the issues when they happened. As an announcer, we have a powerful platform that should be used to encourage all racers, and that simply didn’t happen this weekend.
"I’m proud of my past work promoting women’s cycling, and look forward to using my voice and platform to continue to encourage more women to participate in the sport as racers, fans, staff, or any other capacity."
The Jingle Cross event has become a staple on the US 'cross calendar since the mid-2000s, turning to a UCI-sanctioned race in 2008. Its former December date gave it the name, and the major climb on the course dubbed "Mt. Krumpit" after the Dr. Seuss tale The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
The event, which was started by surgeon John Meehan and is now in its 15th year and its third as a UCI World Cup, benefits the University of Iowa Children's Hospital. Jingle Cross also, along with the Waterloo World Cup in Wisconsin, put the women's World Cup in the marquee time spot and has equal prize purses for men and women for the C1- and C2-ranked races.
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