Tracey Gaudry: The Most Powerful Woman in Challenges 114 Years of History at the UCI

Tracey Gaudry has – quite literally and by her own admission – been there and done that. She’s a multiple national champion, has ranked third in the world, won World Cups, the Tour de Snowy and the Trophée d’Or Feminin where her names is written in the palmares alongside the likes of Johansson, Vos and Borghini. She’s a successful businesswoman and CEO of the Amy Gillett Foundation, head of the Oceania Cycling Confederation (OCC) and Vice President of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) the international body that governs cycling. She is the definition of doing it all. “I have experienced a great ride in cycling over twenty years,” she says, experiencing the highs and lows of an elite cyclist, the lifestyle that we know so much more about thanks to what Gaudry describes as “this grand year of cycling.” From the high of being ranked top three in the world to the low of crashing in an Olympic Games road race, Gaudry saw life as a top flight pro from the inside before moving into cycling advocacy with the Amy Gillett Foundation (AGF) and becoming the first ever woman President of the OCC in 2012. “I am fortunate to bring a wide range of professional skills as well as cycling experience into the space,” she says of her election.

Then another first – Gaudry was elected as one of Brian Cookson’s three Vice Presidents at an ill-tempered Congress in September 2013. Gaudry is part of a dynamic group of women – alongside the likes of Kristy Scrymgeour who sits on the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council, Wiggle-Honda team owner Rochelle Gilmore and Le Tour Entier co-founder Emma Pooley – who, with the support of UCI President Brian Cookson, are finally dragging women’s cycling into the twenty first century. At the time of her election Gaudry told Velonews “I’ll be standing alongside, as a lieutenant, to a president who I know is collaborative, whom I know is not afraid to seek advice on difficult questions, and on simple questions and he has accepted feedback openly, and I welcome that philosophy inside the Management Committee.” When I spoke to Brian Cookson, he was keen to point out that he is a ‘listening President’ – does Gaudry still stand by her statement one year on? “Those are statements I made then and will make them again today,” she says. Her election to lead the OCC and her appointment to the UCI’s Management Committee put her “inside the tent, working as part of a team to change the game, which was needed, to progress good initiatives that were already in place.” She prefers being able to work from the inside as opposed to agitating from the outside and credits Brian Cookson with demonstrating his strengths as a President who “listens and digests, much more than he speaks” stating that she feels her own role is to provide guidance, to act as a listening board and to provide information to help him “form the right views and make the right decisions so that when you do speak you’re ready, you’re armed, you’re knowledgeable and you have a trusted team alongside you, to help demonstrate you’re putting the right foot forward as much as possible.”

So are women’s voices finally being heard at the UCI? Gaudry thinks they are but concedes there is a long way to go. But, as she points out, her presence at the heart of the UCI is challenging “114 years of history where there has not been a female voice – that’s a lot of history to start and think about how we might adapt the culture, adapt the conversation, bring a new perspective into an existing conversation.” But Gaudry is equally clear that lobbying for action on the women’s sport shouldn’t come from women alone. “It’s about bringing everyone along for the journey,” she states, “and for me it’s about lining up alongside my Management Committee colleagues and encouraging a conversation across the UCI and looking at elevating women in positions of significance and influence.” The really great news, Gaudry says, is that this approach is beginning to take root and bear fruit: “It’s not only Gaudry and the women on the commissions putting forward proposals and opportunities to develop women in cycling, it’s the blokes as well.”

Gaudry is keen to point out that all the UCI commissions have people of great experience, expertise and knowledge “and guess what? More of those people are women these days.” She says that women have “a lot to offer, not just the women’s side of cycling but cycling as a sport, to grow it as a way of life and a great activity for everybody.” She points out that the UCI is at the head of a complex and worldwide system of 179 National Federations that represent hundreds and hundreds of clubs around the world, across five continents. “There are many ways to foster the involvement of women and to promote the role of women and to achieve great outcomes all the way up and down the spectrum of cycling,” she points out.

I’m keen to know more about the role of the Women’s Commission, the much vaunted body set up by Cookson on his election and Gaudry is just as keen to outline its role in strategic development and facilitation. It does not, she tells me, “decide everything that happens for women in cycling.” Instead the commission takes proposals from other parts of the UCI – every commission is tasked with providing updates to the Women’s Commission be that cycling disciplines, ethics, governance of anti-doping – and works transversally “to understand what they’re striving to achieve, to bring that together and build an argument and a proposal for some of the more significant changes and investments we’d like to make in women’s cycling.”

I wonder whether one of those ‘significant changes’ is the much debated minimum wage for professional women cyclists. With Brian Cookson admitting he has failed in his manifesto pledge to deliver the minimum wage, and still clearly entertaining doubts about levels of remuneration for women riders, I’m interested to know Gaudry’s opinion on this thorniest of issues. Does she agree with the commonly voiced opinion that a minimum wage will simply see teams collapse or re-register as amateur teams? Or is the minimum wage even the most important issue the women’s sport needs to tackle? Gaudry take time over her answer, again contextualising the issue in terms of her presence on the Management Committee as a rider who has “lived and breathed the environment we are campaigning internally and externally to improve.” She points out that it is this whole environment that needs to change and that some teams are making great steps to achieve that change but that there are still “some conditions that haven’t improved a hell of a lot since I retired, so there’s an absolute personal commitment to moving forward.”

She talks about the need to look at the medium and long term, whilst recognising that urgent action needs to be taken in the short term “to demonstrate the commitment is there and to make changes that are well overdue.” For Gaudry, the picture is very much bigger than a minimum wage – it’s about the environment that professional women cyclists find themselves in, about making that environment as supportive and protective and challenging as possible “because road cycling’s not for the faint hearted, I think it’s fair to say.” The wage equation is simply one part of the whole platform – it’s up to the UCI to determine that events are prepared and delivered and promoted well “so that the stage women are racing on is set for them to perform at their very best.” Gaudry talks about ‘professionalising the duty of care’ to women riders – ensuring that races are safe as well as spectacular – and looking closely at the team environment “so that women are not only protected but challenged so they can bet tested to the extent of their capability.” Gaudry is pushing to raise the standards and conditions that make up a well organised team “pay and remuneration is of course one element, but it also includes housing and transport.” She uses the example of non-European athletes who can’t just go home on a weekend or between races. She wants teams to ensure that their medical and coaching environment is sound, that equipment is properly maintained, that athletes have robust contracts with their teams. Gaudry is quite clear that all these factors need to be taken into account “that when we’re raising the bar we’re looking at the key elements that are important in women’s cycling.”

The expectation seems to be that weaker teams will fold if equal pay structures are created – a point I put to Brian Cookson – but doesn’t that run the risk of sacrificing the opportunities of women who are involved in the sport now for their potential opportunities in the future? Gaudry says this is “exactly right” and that the UCI are looking very carefully at the step change that they are implementing “to raise the bar in a way that is substantial and real, not undercooked and token.” She says that talks have been underway for some time with teams to determine just what that bar looks like “so we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, so we don’t set the bar so high that the system breaks, because if you set it so high that all the teams folded you wouldn’t have an environment or system.” In order to ensure that the top women’s teams appear in the top women’s races, the UCI are working with team managers, owners and event organisers “to develop a model so that when we do put it into the marketplace it has been socialised and tested with the teams, so that everyone knows what’s coming and can prepare for that.”

That model will take the form of a two tier system – not dissimilar to the World Tour/Pro-Continental structure that exists in men’s professional cycling – and work on its implementation has been going on all year. “The serious work started in July when the Women’s Commission met in the afterglow of La Course,” Gaudry says, referencing the historic one day race that saw women compete on one of the most iconic stages in cycling, the Champs Elysées. The two tier model will be implemented over the next two to three years developing a series of top tier and second tier events, all at UCI Level, including one day events and stage races. The top tier events will be raced by the top tier teams with possibilities for development teams to race by invitation. “It’s been tested in concept, the management team has approved it and now we’re going back to work with the race organisers,” Gaudry says, mentioning the race organisers meeting in early December where the model will be further developed. Then it’s over to the teams “to look at what team structures need to be like to truly set out a professional road series.”

I want to switch the focus from the UCI and towards the work of the Amy Gillett Foundation (AGF), set up by Gillett’s husband after her untimely death in 2005. Gillett and five of her Australian teammates were out on a training ride in Germany when tragedy struck – a young driver piled headlong into the group of riders. Five were injured, Gillett was killed. Her death sent shockwaves through Australia and the AGF, born out of the tragedy, advocates for safe cycling in Australia. With a stated intention to be “a catalyst for change, focused on what should be, rather than what is” they’re a good fit for Gaudry. The day before we speak, the AGF’s Cycle Safe Communities program has just been awarded the prestigious 3M-ACRS Diamond Road Safety Diamond Award and Gaudry’s tone brightens when she talks about her work with the Foundation. “The AGF is a relatively small organisation that enables us to be agile and nimble” she enthuses, before drawing some parallels with the UCI “it’s really important to be principled, to be robust in your mission and what you’re striving to achieve, to have strong governance so that structures underpinning your work are sound.” She says that both organisations “are well and truly focused on their community and the stakeholders who are important to achieving their respective missions and visions.” But she highlights an important, and telling, difference between the two organisations and one that she says is really healthy for her role at the UCI: “the AGF advocates for a lot of change, so if you think about that from the UCI’s perspective it’s a little bit like the Le Tour Entier group who are advocating change and calling out to the UCI to take up the task and the challenge and deliver that change.” As a member of the Management Committee, she says, it’s good to know what it’s like being on the “other side of the fence – I respect advocacy and I respect the power and good intent, when it’s well directed, of organisations and groups advocating for better outcomes where the current situation has room for improvement.”

So has that involvement in “hearts & minds” culture change helped with the pressure to change the culture around women’s cycling at the UCI – has Gaudry been able to build a ‘culture of mutual respect’ as she has with the AGF? “Oh, absolutely!” she enthuses, “because it could be conceived by the broader community of people who love bike riding and everything bikes that the UCI is an untouchable organisation that sits out there making its decisions and not listening and not caring.” The AGF, she explains, builds strength in the community – the award was “100% because of the way the AGF collaborates with the community, engages them and has the community as partners in bike rider safety” – an approach she brings to the UCI, to ensure that “wherever we can, the UCI engages with the community we are trying to support and with whom we’re trying to engage great outcomes.”

But that approach seems to have failed the Paracycling community. I’m interested to know Gaudry’s opinion on the recent debacle when the UCI failed to file paperwork on time that would have guaranteed paracycling’s participation in the Rio Paralympics. Gaudry is open about the UCI’s failure to submit the application in a ‘timely fashion’ saying there were ‘unfortunate reasons’ behind it. She accepts that the UCI “didn’t deliver to the standard that we expect of ourselves in every part of the work we do in cycling” saying that the situation “is not a demonstration of a lack of commitment and that we’re working very hard in our dialogue with the IPC to ensure cycling plays a big part in the Paralympic Games.”

If paracycling seems to be assuming the outsiders role in the ‘great cycling family’ that women’s cycling once assumed, there’s no denying it has been a great year for the women’s sport – and not just on the road. And Gaudry is keen to reflect on and celebrate that success. “Let’s reflect on the fact that women’s cycling didn’t start this year,” she points out “it has been growing in various forms for four decades now.” She points to the abolition of the maximum age, and the fact that all the women’s World Cup races were televised “and this year there was a different winner in every single race just showing the depth of talent in the women’s field.” The World Cup also introduced new categories to showcase different styles of racing, and different stories from the women’s peloton. Then came the Women’s Tour in Britain and La Course, races she calls ‘great outcomes’ for the sport. Finally she highlights the fact that ‘significant’ investment from the UCI ensured that all the broadcast events actually happened. “So the thing that high achievers – and people who get involved in cycling are generally pretty high achievers – is to say ‘how do we keep raising the bar by that amount every single year?'” The trick is to be able to celebrate what the sport has achieved, then ensure that next year “we can raise the profile of more events on the women’s road calendar.” That calendar, Gaudry says, was approved at the end of September and the 2015 World Cup series will consist of some ‘amazing’ existing and new one day races, as well as stage races that are growing in profile. The UCI is also working hard to ensure that all major Women’s UCI road events receive significant TV broadcasting so women’s cycling is profiled around the world. The work with key stakeholders to underpin that strong platform is already underway and there is, she assures me “a sense of urgency inside the UCI because of how important that is for the sport, for women’s cycling and for the movement of cycling worldwide.”

But just how robust is the current state of women’s cycling, bearing in mind that a big team like Lululemon is struggling, that Specialized are pulling back on their investment in the sport, that some teams have not been paying wages and a rider like Anna Solovey, who won the Silver medal in the Worlds time trial, has just returned from a doping ban and seems like a doping case waiting to happen? Gaudry makes an excellent point when she says “gee, that sounds like the men’s team environment – they sound like problems that you might see at Pro-continental level or continental level on the men’s circuit.” She says these are challenges the sport has to face “across the board – let’s not try and badge every problem because it’s in the women’s environment – we’re working to improve the standard all around.”

We shift the focus again to Gaudry’s homeland, and talk about her ex-teammate Cadel Evans. The recently retired rider has announced the Great Ocean Road Race – the men’s event has been awarded a 1.1 ranking by the UCI. The elite women’s event is not recognised by the UCI. I ask Gaudry how that could have happened. She says that the UCI did not receive an application for a women’s race but that she knows the organisers are determined that when such an application is made the event will be delivered to the same quality and standard as the men’s event, which strives to bring a one day Classic to Australian shores. Gaudry says that the organisers were determined to deliver an excellent event and to “ensure that they could do an event well in year 1 and that the right foundation and investment is there in order to consider a UCI double header in the future.” The decision was taken by the organiser to seek UCI ranking only for the men’s race with a commitment to deliver “an excellent women’s national level road event alongside.”

Thinking about the perceived ‘quality’ of women’s racing, I’m interested in Gaudry’s views on Anthony Tan’s recent comments on the women’s road race at the 2014 World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain. Tan works for SBS Australia, who badge themselves as ‘cycling central’, and commented that the race was “a three-and-a-half hour advertisement on why we shouldn’t watch” women’s cycling. Gaudry laughs as she says she’s still waiting for Tan to give her a call. Then she offers her perspective on the race, saying she had the ‘once in a lifetime privilege’ of watching from the commissaire’s car “and from the commissaire’s car it was a wonderfully exciting race, a wonderfully exciting contest in what became very trying circumstances towards the end.” It was, she says, a tactical race on an undemanding course made tougher by weather conditions where the riders were riding to maximise their strengths as nations and individuals. “The comment I would make about it not being enough of a show,” Gaudry says, “is that it’s actually about the way you position yourself as a nation and as a woman rider, they’re not thinking about how well this is going to be received at home, they’re thinking about what can I do as an athlete, with my team, to maximise our chance of success.” As she points out, all the road races were decided by winning moves made at the back end of the race.

So to come back to her point about the issues in women’s cycling, the sport was yet again being held to a different standard? “That’s true to some extent,” she replies, “and the first thing I’ll say is that I’m not here to be part of the whinge brigade, to say it’s not good enough.” She’s aware of the things that need to improve and the need to improve them, but she says those improvements lie in working conditions for women’s teams and the profile of events, the whole platform which she is working so hard to improve. “But that’s not pointing the finger at parts of the system or stakeholders in the system at present – teams, women, organisers – we as a collective need to do that.” But she agrees that, where racing is concerned, I am “dead right – if you look at the elite men’s and women’s road races, the elite men have a field of nine riders per country, the women have six per country, so your tactics are going to be different because your team make up is different.” Women’s teams don’t have, as she points out, “four, five, six pieces of ammunition, if you can call it that, to shoot out early in the race and have three or four riders left at the back end of the race.” Women’s teams have to think very carefully about how they use their resources, when the race gets to the business end “and that’s what you saw, and what really excited those who were truly looking at how the race was run and won.” With five World Championship time trials and road races under her belt, Gaudry speaks with her usual knowledge and authority and I pity Tan if he ever makes that call.

Our time is nearly up and I ask Gaudry one final question – just what does the road map for the future of women’s cycling look like? And when will we see it delivered? Gaudry talks first about the future for women’s road cycling, pointing out the work that is being done across all the cycling disciplines, including coaching and development programmes worldwide. The timing, Gaudry says, looks like this: in December there is a women’s World Cup seminar, which will take place in Switzerland and bring together World Cup race organisers with organisers of other major races “to plan to maximise the profile of all the major women’s events throughout 2015, to build on the great work that was done this year.” The seminar will examine the programme of the concept for a professional women’s road series and develop its structure, possibly in two tiers, to be ratified in terms of rules, regulations and protocols during 2015, for implementation in 2016. Beyond that, Gaudry says, “we’re also continuing the conversations we’re already having with women’s team owners, organisers and selectors to look at the structure of women’s teams in the top tier of women’s races and to set the arrangements for those teams during 2015 so that we can implement an improved structure in 2016.” The women’s and road commissions within the UCI are working ‘intensively’ with event organisers and team owners “to establish a platform which literally – in the space of one season – will truly raise the standard.”

Across the broader spectrum, Gaudry points out, “one of the great benefits we have in place is that some of the newer disciplines of cycling – mountain biking, BMX, cyclocross – we have a greater level of equity in place already because those disciplines are very largely built around a stage and a platform where men’s and women’s events are conducted together.” For those disciplines, Gaudry wants to continue build a higher profile so that all events benefit. It’s also about extending the length of women’s races “if that’s feasible and it’s what the women want.” Looking outside the racing environment it’s about “how we can bring more women into cycling – as directors, as coaches.” To that end, Gaudry says, “we hope to be making some announcements pretty soon about facilitating the involvement of women in team director courses.”

I’ve seen it said of Gaudry that when she enters a room, she owns it. I reflect on the fact that changing that 114 years of history must be like turning the proverbial supertanker – but if there’s a woman who can take the helm and force through the changes that she, the stakeholders and the fans so desperately want to see in the sport, it is Tracey Gaudry, the woman who has been there, done it and got a drawerful of T-shirts.

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