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UCI tightens rules on transgender female cyclists by extending transition period to 24 months

Riders such as Emily Bridges transitioning from male to female will now have to wait two years before competing in women’s races

The UCI has doubled the time that an athlete transitioning from male to female needs to wait before being able to compete in women’s races.

The new rules take effect from 1 July, and stipulate that athletes transitioning from male to female need to have had testosterone levels below 2.5 nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) for 24 months. Previously, the rules required testosterone levels below 5 nmol/L for 12 months.  

This rule change would mean that Emily Bridges – whom the UCI blocked from competing at the National Omnium Championships in February in what would have been her debut in a women’s race – will not be able to compete in similar events until 2023.

The exclusion from the event of the 21 year old from Wales led to headlines around the world and shone a spotlight on the issue of transgender athletes competing in women’s sport.

> Emily Bridges says Boris Johnson’s comments on transgender athletes led to threats of physical violence against her

World cycling’s governing body announced the change to its existing rules on eligibility, which had been published in March 2020, following a meeting of its management committee in Brittany this week.

It says that while its current rules are “stricter and more restrictive” than those of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it carried out a review following publication of studies since they came into effect.

Those studies have been summarised in a document written by Professor Xavier Bigard under the title The current knowledge on the effects of gender-affirming treatment on markers of performance in transgender female cyclists, which has been published on the governing body’s website. The UCI said:

The latest scientific publications clearly demonstrate that the return of markers of endurance capacity to ‘female level’ occurs within six to eight months under low blood testosterone, while the awaited adaptations in muscle mass and muscle strength/power take much longer (two years minimum according to a recent study). Given the important role played by muscle strength and power in cycling performance, the UCI has decided to increase the transition period on low testosterone from 12 to 24 months. In addition, the UCI has decided to lower the maximum permitted plasma testosterone level (currently 5 nmol/L) to 2.5 nmol/L. This value corresponds to the maximum testosterone level found in 99.99% of the female population.

This adjustment of the UCI's eligibility rules is based on the state of scientific knowledge published to date in this area and is intended to promote the integration of transgender athletes into competitive sport, while maintaining fairness, equal opportunities and the safety of competitions. The new rules will come into force on 1st July. They may change in the future as scientific knowledge evolves.

Moreover, the UCI envisages discussions with other International Federations about the possibility of supporting a research programme whose objective would be to study the evolution of the physical performance of highly trained athletes under transitional hormone treatment.

In an interview last month with Diva magazine, Bridges addressed the question of whether being a transgender woman gave her an unfair advantage over her competitors. She had initially been cleared by British Cycling to race the National Omnium Championships after her testosterone levels fell within the levels permitted under its Transgender and Non-Binary Participation Policy, which has since been suspended. 

> Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges insists she has no advantage over rivals

“I understand how you'd come to this conclusion because a lot of people still view trans women as men with male anatomies and physiologies,” she said.

“But hormone replacement therapy has such a massive effect. The aerobic performance difference is gone after about four months.

“There are studies going on for trans women in sport. I'm doing one and the performance drop-off that I’ve seen is massive. I don't have any advantage over my competitors and I've got data to back that up,” she added.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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