Belgian Waffle Ride founder addresses new trans athlete policy

Michael Marckx says new rules will protect "integrity and parity." Promoters of other gravel races say they have no plans to change rules of inclusion. 

Photo: Brad Kaminski

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Last Friday, Monuments of Cycling, which produces the Belgian Waffle Ride gravel race series, published new rules governing transgender athletes at its races.

The policy detailed three racing classifications to take effect on August 1, 2023.

  • Female – In the interest of protecting the parity of sports between women and men, racers who were born female may compete in this classification.
  • Male – Racers who were born and/or identify as male may compete in this classification.
  • Open – All racers, regardless of gender identification, may compete in this classification.

The news came exactly one month after Austin Killips, a transgender woman, won the Belgian Waffle Ride North Carolina on June 10. In late May, Killips, who is a professional cyclist for Nice Bikes, placed second at Belgian Waffle Ride BC in Canada.

Michael Marckx, the founder of the Belgian Waffle Ride, told Velo that the new category policy was developed in response to the feedback that the organization received after the North Carolina race. He declined to go into detail about the nature of the feedback.

“I don’t want to speak on behalf of everyone who responded,” Marckx wrote via email. “In general, I will say that the feedback we received covered different perspectives on the same issue – how to protect the integrity and parity of our races, especially the female category.”

Marckx said that in order to come up with the policy change, “we consulted with many racers, sponsors, other stakeholders, and relevant international regulatory bodies to identify best practices.

“Our sole intention in making this change is to be a leader in our sport by providing all participants with a fair, positive, supportive environment that promotes personal growth and healthy competition,” he wrote.

The announcement caused a flurry of activity on cycling accounts on social media and generated headlines in mainstream outlets like Newsweek and Fox News, as well.

There are currently nearly 2,300 comments on Belgian Waffle Ride’s Instagram post announcing the change. Some commenters were upset with the change and said the new category rules are discriminatory toward trans women.

Molly Cameron, a cycling industry trans advocate, shared BWR’s post, commenting, “it is painful to witness organizations and individuals I’ve built long relationships with actively discriminating against transgender people. In making a reactive decision that goes against all existing event policy design + International, Olympic, National Federation and even unsanctioned sporting precedent, BWR has chosen to further marginalize and discriminate against an at risk minority demographic.”

Cameron stated that she recommended boycotting BWR and any events and organizations that choose to ban or restrict transgender women from women’s categories and/or choose to create a third-category / “open” category as a place to put women they decide are not women.

According to Marckx, “the response [to the new policy] has been overwhelmingly supportive, with approximately 70 percent of respondents voicing support. I appreciate that nearly all our racers, sponsors, and other stakeholders that have responded to date recognize the careful considerations we took to make this policy change.”

He also referred to “hate mail piling up” as soon as the email announcement was sent last week.

The Belgian Waffle Ride launched in 2011 as a Belgian-style spring classic in San Diego County. The franchise now includes five other events, including two international locations. There is prize money up for grabs at each event, where it is split evenly between the top 3-5 male and female finishers. Riders may also vie for the Quadrupel Crown series title, which awards an additional prize purse of $25,000 shared among the top five men and women.

The new policy change states that “equal amounts of prize money” will now be awarded to each of the three race categories.

“Typically, the top three of each category will be awarded prize money,” it states. “Some races, the top five may be awarded prize money.”

Belgian Waffle Ride is considered one of the major players in the domestic gravel scene. Its San Diego event sells out yearly and draws some 3,000 riders. It is the first organizer to explicitly exclude transgender athletes from the male and female categories. Its new policy also states that while it will not require proof of eligibility for racers competing in specific classifications, it “may require validation of eligibility of specific racers on a case-by-case basis if needed to ensure the integrity of each classification.”

Other events stay the course

In recent years, multiple races and governing bodies have created participatory rules for transgender cyclists. Currently, the Union Cycliste International (UCI) and cycling’s American governing body, USA Cycling (USAC), allow trans women to compete in women’s competitions if their testosterone levels have been below 2.5 nanomoles per liter for at least 24 months and remain at that level during the desired period of eligibility.

Promoters of gravel races, most of which operate outside of UCI and USAC jurisdiction, have been left to create their own regulations. In the past few years, many gravel races have added a non-binary classification to their age-group categories, and some with elite categories have added them, as well. Velo is not aware of any organizers requiring proof of eligibility for any category.

Whitney Allison, who is both a professional gravel race and promoter of Colorado’s FoCo Fondo gravel race, said that her event will follow the standards set by the UCI regarding trans inclusion. FoCo Fondo also offers non-binary categories across race distances.

But Allison also said that she and FoCo Fondo co-director Zack Allison did meet with local stakeholders to discuss the event’s overall approach to trans and non-binary athlete inclusion after the Belgian Waffle Ride’s North Carolina race.

Ultimately, they elected not to make any changes.

“I don’t feel that it makes sense for me to make those decisions,” she said. “We have a governing body that decides who goes to Olympics, so we would defer to those guidelines to what they define as a trans female. A relevant example is that if Austin [Killips] signs up, we’d assume that she’s within those guidelines and could therefore race in the women’s category at FoCo Fondo.

“We also have the non-binary category to make people feel more comfortable and welcome if they think they’d be prosecuted in either way signing up for the men’s or women’s category,” she added. 

Life Time, the promoter of some of the world’s largest off-road races, including Unbound Gravel, the Leadville 100, and the Life Time Grand Prix series, has a “Transgender & Non-Binary Participant Policy” on its website that details eligibility for the male, female, and non-binary categories at its events.

Regarding transgender women, Life Time allows them to ” register to compete in the female category provided that the participant has been undergoing continuous, medically-supervised hormone treatment for gender transition for at least one (1) year prior to the date of the race. Transgender women may register to race in the male category regardless of hormonal treatment.”

The policy also states that transgender men may register to compete in the male category of Life Time races with or without regard to hormone treatment; however a female-to-male transgender participant may not compete as a female if the participant has begun hormone treatment related to their gender transition.

Life Time declined a request for an interview on the topic.

SBT GRVL, another marquee gravel race in the US, does not have any language around transgender athlete participation on its event website. It awards prize money to the top five male and female finishers of the 144-mile course and has non-binary categories for each age group.

When asked for an interview to discuss SBT’s transgender athlete policy, Amy Charity, race co-founder and director, also declined to comment.

SBT GRVL is on August 20, one week after the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. The next Belgian Waffle Ride event is in Cedar City, Utah on August 26.




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