Lizzie Armitstead, the 2015 world road race champion, has become the latest British rider to open up about her experiences of sexism in cycling – which included being “left with no choice” but to dance with a male team-mate for his birthday after being woken up at 11.30pm by a senior manager at a professional team.
The 28-year-old has also told the Guardian that on the day she became world champion in Richmond, Virginia, the British Cycling team manager, Brian Stephens, who had been appointed her coach, was not even there because he had prioritised the men’s junior team.
“I was really disappointed, because I’d done everything right going into that competition, and I just needed them to get it right for me on the day,” she said. “And they didn’t. There was a lack of leadership. They let me down big time.”
In her forthcoming autobiography, written with the Guardian’s cycling correspondent, William Fotheringham, she also details other examples of sexism, including women having to borrow helmets from men, and being told they would be banned if they did not return them.
Armitstead tells of one particularly awful experience on tour with the Cervelo professional team when she was 19, after being woken up late at night and told to go downstairs to the bar where they were having an impromptu party for one of the male cyclists. She found she was the only woman there, and she was “left with no choice” but to take part in a dance competition with the birthday boy on a Nintendo Wii game while all the other male riders sat on bar stools and watched.
In the book, Armitstead, who was 19 at the time, says she felt confused and foolish, but didn’t know why. “It was only later, when I really thought about it, I thought, ‘No, that wasn’t a laugh’.”
In an interview in Saturday’s Weekend magazine, Armitstead says the most important inequality for her has been pay. “My prize money for winning the 2015 world championship was £2,000, and the men’s was £20,000. But the good thing from that is this year it changed. We have equal money.”
The 28-year-old (who has written her autobiography as Lizzie Armitstead but now mostly calls herself Lizzie Deignan after marrying Philip) is not the first British rider to allege sexism in the sport. Last year, the sprinter Jess Varnish alleged that former British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton told her to “go away and have a baby” – claims he denies – after she was released from the elite programme. The 2008 Olympic road race champion Nicole Cooke has also repeatedly talked about women riders being treated far less well than their male counterparts.
Armitstead, who was cleared to ride at last year’s Olympics despite missing three doping tests after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, was also asked whether she thought the public is now suspicious of British cyclists in general following the leak of Bradley Wiggins’ therapeutic use exemptions for the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone before the 2011 and 2012 Tour de France and the ongoing questions about what was in the Jiffy bag delivered to Wiggins on the final day of the Criterium du Dauphiné in 2011.
“I don’t know if people are suspicious of cycling or more specifically of Bradley,” she replied. “It’s heartbreaking if they are, because there have been so many success stories.”
• Read Simon Hattenstone’s exclusive interview with Lizzie Armitstead in Saturday’s Weekend magazine and online