British rider Jessie Walker has left life as a professional cyclist behind - at least for now. She says she suffered bullying and even had food and water denied by the Directeur Sportif of her Italian World Tour team this year.
In a blog published on her own site, Walker - who supported Lizzie Deignan (nee Armitstead) to her World Championship win in Richmond last year - says the DS at her Italian team was a "bully" - asking: "why are the wrong people managing women’s cycling?"
"In one case water was denied to riders from the car due to the DS deciding ‘they don’t deserve it’"
The 22-year-old raced for Servetto Footon throughout 2016. The team is ranked 15th of Women's World Tour squads, and the young rider commented: "I’d say from personal experience on the World Tour level only the top 10 teams are acceptable to call themselves ‘professional’."
Walker was able to move to Italy thanks to support from the Dave Rayner Fund - she says she's "never had any financial support from any team."
As awful as it is that women racing full time aren't being paid, it doesn't surprise us. What's shocking is Jessie's comments around her treatment. She says: "It has been a real struggle for me to be in a good mental state at races because the team has been poorly run, with a bully for a team manager."
Listing some of the bullying tactics, she says: "My environment was so controlled on and off the bike by people who don’t have a clue of what they are talking about. Even easy days I wasn’t allowed Cafe stops and told that all rides must be over 4 hours, and we were never allowed a day off the bike. Obviously I didn’t follow this as I’ve been fortunate enough to have the full time support of Jon Sharples at Train Sharp so I knew what my DS was saying was incorrect."
Most shockingly, Walker - who raced with Matrix Fitness for three years - says: "No food was provided after races, in one case water was denied to riders from the car due to the DS deciding ‘they don’t deserve it’ maybe because we’d missed the break or something similar."
Last year, Walker supported Lizzie Deignan (nee Armitstead) in Richmond, and she's also raced on the Team GB squad at the Women's Tour. Thankfully, here she says she saw the "better side" of the support available.
Walker says she'll stay in cycling - but won't race next year. We wish her all the best for her future move - and hope helping to share her criticisms will go some way to stamping out treatment like this.