Tour of the Gila director says UCI rules could kill sport
Engleman’s emotions are heightened by the fact that he served as director of development for US women’s cycling for six years. While he is wary of criticizing Killips personally, he is clearly concerned about the cyclist’s sudden rise to dominance and the psychological effect a trans rider’s accomplishments could have on promising female riders.
“I’ve worked with some of the best female cyclists in the world and I’ve seen them do exceptional things from the start,” he explains. “And here’s someone that no one has ever heard of competing in a first UCI stage race [the 2022 Tour of the Gila] comes in third place. It hardly ever happens. Austin also finished third in a time trial on a non-time trial bike. One wonders. I am an achiever. You look at that and you say, ‘That’s not right.’”
Engleman, 64, worked particularly closely with Amy Dombroski, a US multi-discipline champion who was killed in 2013 at the age of just 26 during a training drive in Belgium after being hit by a truck. Killips, in vivid irony, won last week’s race wearing the team colors of the Amy D Foundation, set up by the late rider’s family with the express purpose of “empowering young women through cycling”.
Engleman suggests achieving the opposite when racing with a trans cyclist, particularly when no rationale for the decision has been offered. “When a team comes in and does something that the world doesn’t understand, I expect that team to say why they did it,” he says. “For all my life I can’t understand what they want other than to win a race. I knew Amy very well. I’ve helped her throughout her career. I clearly remember the spot where I was on the street where I heard that she was dying. This trans issue had upset Amy, but she had to keep quiet. Everyone will say, ‘You can’t speak for Amy, she’s dead.’ But the point is that everyone saw this moment coming. And nobody in power who could have helped the sport chose to do anything.”
Given that Engleman’s peak coincided with the rise of Lance Armstrong, he admits he has a visceral reaction to any perception of an unfair advantage. “Whether doping or anything else, sometimes you see issues that no one is going to address. Women shouldn’t be the underdogs, but the reality is they are, especially in the economics of world sport. I know there are athletes now who decide the writing is on the wall.”
As tempting as it may be to resort to fatalism, Engleman insists that cycling’s Omerta code must be challenged in the post-Killips trans debate. “It’s interesting that even friends of mine act like it’s not a problem,” he says. “Everybody’s too scared to touch it. But when we talk about change, we have to talk. There are some of us who need to take a stand.”