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Opinion: It never ends how it starts

The first thing that caught my attention this week came from the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic, a series of criteriums held on Australia’s beguiling Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria and which began on New Year’s Day. It acts as a prelude to the Australian national championships, also staged in Victoria and currently being held as I pen my first column for VeloNews.com.

For those living outside our island continent, the most newsworthy event at the ‘Bay Crits’ came from the women’s race. Chloe Hosking, a rider previously with HTC-High Road the past two years but now contracted to Specialized-lulelemon (which arose from the ashes of the High Road women’s team), described the UCI president as “a bit of a dick” after she won last Sunday’s opener in Geelong, where the 2010 road worlds were staged.

“What can you say, Pat McQuaid is a dick,” she told wire service Australian Associated Press.

“To say at the biggest sporting event (for) women’s cycling that we haven’t progressed enough to have a minimum salary — how do we progress if we all have to still work and we can’t support ourselves?

“There’s just been some really negative things said in the press lately about how women’s racing is boring and how we don’t deserve a minimum salary, that sort of thing,” Hosking continued.

Her retort was mainly in reference to Pat McQuaid’s remarks from last year’s road worlds in Copenhagen, where, after a fairly lackluster women’s race from a couch potato’s perspective, he said women’s cycling “had not developed enough” to qualify for a minimum wage.

McQuaid has since said his remarks were taken out of context, and that his perspective was based on the harsh reality that women’s cycling still struggles to attract a level of sponsorship (and thus financial backing) for all female riders to be paid a set minimum wage, or for the UCI to mandate as such.

The debate has raged ever since Copenhagen, particularly on Cervélo co-founder Gerard Vroomen’s personal website; check out his blog posts from October 11 and 12 last year. For this first column at least, I am not going to get into the details of the debate until now.

Part of what I want to canvass is something that appears to be so far missing from the conversation: should a journalist include defamatory comments made by a young’un — Hosking is barely 21 — in the heat of the moment, knowing full-well those comments are likely to incur some form of reprimand?

Does it matter what type of publication that journalist works for (tabloid, broadsheet, magazine, website, etc.)? Is it considered defamatory only when comments are made concerning a member of officialdom, but acceptable if they were directed at a colleague, peer, rival, journalist, or media outlet?

Cycling Australia is yet to punish Hosking, but in a statement issued Monday said they will “be seeking an explanation from Chloe before making any decision regarding disciplinary action.”

“All our members have the right to express views contrary to those of the UCI, but it is not acceptable for any member of Cycling Australia to personally denigrate others,” read the statement.

“Name-calling does nothing to enhance the reputation of professional women’s cycling. Under the Cycling Australia code of conduct and UCI regulations, Chloe is afforded the right to be treated with respect by her fellow riders, administrators and officials of the sport. Therefore she should afford the same rights to them.”

Will this affect Hosking’s selection for the Olympic Games road race in London, where, as in Copenhagen, she would likely lead the Australian women’s road team, or at the very least, share a co-leadership role with Rochelle Gilmore? Will this affect other future selections for her? With so many already skittish about their involvement with professional cycling, what has this done for her trade team’s sponsors? Will it affect her team’s ability to acquire invitations to certain races?

Whatever your view about McQuaid and the UCI, Hosking’s remarks, despite being widely reported, talked and Tweeted about, were ill-considered and are unlikely to further the cause for women’s cycling. And for Chloe, the ramifications may be protracted and wide-reaching — wider than she ever imagined.

One also has to ask what, if anything, did Hosking learn from the experience, given that when a team-mate told her over dinner Sunday evening her comments were spread across the Twitterverse, she told reporters the next day, “It’s gotten the world talking about women’s cycling, hasn’t it?”

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