BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (VN) — BMC Racing assistant director Mike Sayers apologized Thursday for a comment he made following stage 3 of the USA Pro Challenge, when he questioned RadioShack’s lack of aggressive tactics and likened it to women’s racing.
Hours after Jade Wilcoxson of Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies won the Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge women’s criterium in Aspen, Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson crossed the same finish line, alone, to take the Pro Challenge stage win, just holding off a chase driven by race leader Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing.
In a story on Cyclingnews.com, a frustrated Sayers complained that RadioShack, which brought a strong squad to Colorado, has been playing possum, forcing BMC to chase Garmin’s repeated attacks.
“I think (RadioShack) forgot that the women’s race is later in the week,” Sayers said, referring to the Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge women’s criterium. “I don’t understand why they’re not going for stage wins. I don’t expect anybody to help my team, but I don’t understand why, when you have six riders in the front group, that you won’t even pull, and then you start attacking to get the stage win.”
Reaction on Twitter to Sayers’ comment was swift.
German veteran Ina Teutenberg of Specialized-lululemon, one of the most respected riders of the women’s peloton, wrote on Twitter, “I think they forgot that the women’s race is later in the week…. really Mike! WTF does that translate to?”
Elsewhere, the Twitter hashtag #boycottBMC appeared alongside complaints over Sayers’ remark.
Adding to the drama was the fact that van Garderen’s wife, Jessica, had organized the Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge women’s criterium, which she had planned as a stage race but ultimately trimmed down due to a lack of funding.
Following Thursday’s stage finish in Beaver Creek — won by RadioShack’s Jens Voigt — Sayers told VeloNews that he was deeply sorry for his comments.
“I apologize to women and to women’s racing,” said Sayers, who raced as a professional with Mercury, Health Net and BMC and has been with BMC since he retired in 2008. “My comment was not directed toward them or their racing. I realize it was inappropriate to refer to them, and their racing, the way that I did, and for that, I apologize. That is not what I am about, that is not my belief, but it is my own fault and I apologize.”
Sayers also works as a director with USA Cycling at world championships and the Olympics, and said he’s seen firsthand how talented women athletes are.
“At the Olympics I worked with Kristin Armstrong and the other girls, and I know how hard they work and train and how hard they race, and it was inappropriate for me to reference them the way I did,” Sayers said. “I take responsibility for the mistake and for everything that I said. It was absolutely out of line.”
The man caught in the middle, van Garderen, was calm about his director’s comment.
“Mike apologized,” van Garderen said. “I think his emotions of the day — I think he just got caught up in the moment. And he didn’t mean it. At the same time, I’m obviously a big supporter of women’s cycling, and my wife just put on a women’s race that was a huge success. Anyone who saw the women’s Olympic race — that was one of the most exciting races I’ve seen all year, with Vos and the close time gap. Mike has a lot of respect for women’s cycling. I have a lot of respect for women’s cycling. Yeah, it was an inappropriate comment. I think he realizes that and he’s sorry. I wouldn’t expect him to make that comment again.”
Van Garderen’s wife, Jessica, told VeloNews that she had spoken with Sayers Thursday morning and that, in her mind, all was forgiven.
“I’ve known Mike Sayers for a long time, and he’s not really the kind of person to say something that,” she said. “I’m sure it just slipped out his mouth. I’ve always thought of Mike as a supporter of women’s cycling and I’ve never heard him say one negative thing about women’s cycling before. I know he didn’t mean it to be anything against our race. It probably just came out before he thought about what he was saying.
“It was probably along the lines of someone saying ‘You throw like a girl… If someone were to say, ‘You ride like a girl,’ I’d just tell them to jump into the women’s race and then ask them what ‘riding like a girl’ is really like.”
As for Sayers, he simply hoped an apology would be enough to appease his critics.
“I’m disappointed in myself,” Sayers said. “This has been difficult for me; I’ve never had an incident like this, where I’ve offended a group of individuals. I have the utmost respect for women. My wife is a strong, athletic woman and a powerful force in the banking industry, and I respect her more than anyone on this planet. My statement was not reflective on my feeling towards women, towards women’s racing, or women in general, not even close. I realize that doesn’t absolve me, and I’m not saying I should be forgiven. I made a mistake and I take responsibility. I own it, 100 percent.”