Eileen Gray: a cycling pioneer and campaigner

The cycling family recently bid farewell to one of the great pioneers of women’s cycling, Eileen Gray. Born in London in 1920, she passed away at the age of 95.

During a long and active career in cycling’s administration, Eileen Gray served on the Management Committee of the former International Amateur Cycling Federation (FIAC), was President of the British Cycling Federation for 10 years and was a driving force behind the inclusion of the women’s road race at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

However her beginnings in the world of cycling were as an athlete, and in 1946, at the age of 26, Eileen Gray raced in a Danish track cycling event as part of the first ever British international women’s cycling team.

Although her competitive career was short-lived – she retired in 1947 following the birth of her son – she continued to have a strong impact on women’s cycling. In 1949 she founded the Women’s Track Racing Association which later became the Women’s Cycle Racing Association.

She campaigned constantly to gain recognition for women’s cycling, and was triumphant when, in 1955, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) agreed to recognise women’s world records.

For several years, Eileen Gray acted as Team Manager for the British women who enjoyed success in new events being launched for women in Europe.

From 1977 to 1981 she served on the Management Committee of the FIAC, at a time when cycling was still governed by two separate bodies for amateur and professional cyclists. One of the highlights of her 12 years (1976-1986) as President of Great Britain’s National Federation, at that time called the British Cycling Federation, was to see the inclusion of the women’s road race at the 1984 Olympic Games.

She attended 16 Olympic Games between 1948 and 2004, and in 1988 was appointed Vice-chair of the British Olympic Committee. In 2012, at the aged of 92, she was a torch-bearer for the 2012 London Olympics.

UCI President Brian Cookson paid tribute to Eileen Gray: “Eileen Gray was a strong advocate of women’s cycling, and was an inspiration for generations of cyclists. Our sport has lost a great figure, but the results of her long and successful career will remain with us always.”