Cyclist rebukes critics who say trans athletes unfairly beat her in amateur race

    An Illinois woman who placed third in an amateur cycling championship is pushing back against criticism directed at the two transgender women who beat her in the event. 

    Kristen Chalmers called out “ridiculous” national headlines published immediately after the event that suggested the race was stolen from her. She also penned an open letter she soon hopes to publish alongside dozens of other cisgender women who competed at the Illinois State Cyclocross Championship defending their transgender counterparts.

    “It would be ridiculous to say that my life has been ruined by getting third,” Chalmers told NBC News. “I had a great race, and it would have been more boring if it had been a smaller field without such strong competitors in it.”

    Chalmers finished third in the women’s single speed championship on Sunday — a smaller race she described as a “warmup” to bigger events later that day — behind two transgender women, Tessa Johnson, 25, and Evelyn “Casey” Williamson, 30.

    A photo of Chalmers, Johnson and Williamson accepting their medals drew backlash from conservative pundits who have regularly expressed outrage at transgender athletes participating in women’s sports. 

    “More mediocre male bodies taking podium places from female athletes. And it stinks!!!!” tennis legend Martina Navratilova tweeted.

    Chalmers, however, had a different reaction.

    In her letter — which she showed to NBC News and soon plans to make public —Chalmers and her fellow cyclists wrote that they stand “steadfast in their support” of Johnson and Williamson.

    “We refuse to be falsely presented as victims in a manufactured controversy driven to further alienate and marginalize those most vulnerable within our community, in service of rampant and harmful anti-LGBTQ+ legislation,” the letter reads. “We speak for ourselves: inclusion makes our sport and community stronger. Everyone is welcome here. Trans women are women.”

    Chalmers said her letter was co-signed by dozens of cisgender women who race on the Chicago cyclocross circuit, which she describes as an amateur racing community that embraces inclusion.

    The outrage that followed the Sunday race illustrates the challenge top sports federations are facing when it comes to balancing inclusion, fairness and pushback against transgender athletes.

    Similar to recent changes at the international rugby, aquatic and track federations, the world’s top cycling federation, Union Cycliste Internationale, passed new restrictions this summer on transgender athletes in elite women’s events.

    But the Illinois State Cyclocross Championship, which caters to amateurs, falls under more inclusive USA Cycling policies.

    Multisport federations, such as the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee, have largely deferred to each sport’s governing body to create sport-specific policies. 

    “It’s a really emotional issue for a lot of people,” said Katie Barnes, an ESPN writer and author of “Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates.” “Frankly, there isn’t a ton of science on the topic, in the way that we would hope that there would be to generate evidence-based policy.”

    Twenty-four states have adopted new laws and regulations in recent years that restrict transgender athletes from participating on the school sports teams consistent with their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank.

    In April, the Biden administration proposed a new federal policy that would prohibit blanket bans on transgender athletes competing on the school sports teams consistent with their gender identities, but it would still allow local restrictions when there are concerns about safety or fairness — more likely at higher levels of competition. A rollout of the final rules — anticipated this fall — has been delayed.