International Women’s Day: a chat with UCI Vice-President Katerina Nash

As a successful international athlete, Vice-President of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) since September 2021, and also President of the UCI Athletes’ Commission, Katerina Nash wears more than one hat in the world of cycling. She assumes all her roles with aplomb.

At the 2022 Walmart UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Fayetteville (USA) at the end of January, Nash delivered a speech on behalf of the UCI at the Opening Ceremony on Thursday, competed in the team relay on Friday and the Women Elite race on Saturday, then donned a suit to award medals for the podium athletes on Sunday.

Although she insists Fayetteville was her last major international competition, the 44-year-old California-based Czech athlete will continue to compete domestically in cyclo-cross, mountain bike and her new-found love, gravel.

“It’s a good combination with my work at the UCI. I remain an athlete, I still go to events and am around the athletes. I want to stay active as long as I can so I remain relevant, and when I can go to UCI meetings, I can really say that I represent the athletes.”

Spreading the voice of the athletes for ultimate change

Because not only is she UCI Vice-President, Nash has also been re-elected President of the UCI Athletes’ Commission and is President and one of two riders’ representatives on the UCI Cyclo-cross Commission.

Which brings us to one of her proudest achievements as President of the Athletes’ Commission: getting all its members - two representatives of each cycling discipline - onto the UCI Commission for their respective discipline. Until last year, only one riders’ representative sat on the Commission of each discipline.

The increased representation of athletes was the desire of the UCI Athletes’ Commission. And it was Katerina Nash who campaigned for this to the UCI Management Committee, of which she has been a member since 2018.

“It’s a crucial step forward to be represented by two athletes – one man and one woman – across all the commissions. The commissions only have an advisory role. Even though not everything changes overnight it’s always part of the conversation that leads to the ultimate change. And that’s what I’m excited about.”

Gender parity: waiting for the day it becomes normal

She is also excited about the growing place of women in the world of cycling and the huge steps being made towards gender parity, not least with equal numbers of men and women confirmed for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

“I think this is important for everybody. We had equal numbers for mountain bike in Tokyo and it is exciting now for women’s road racing which is so amazing, so competitive and has so many good riders. They deserve the same opportunities as the male peloton.” Nash’s enthusiasm is tempered slightly by the fact that such steps forward are still major issues.

“I agree we need to highlight that the world is changing but I can’t wait for the time when we’re not just celebrating every woman in every position. A time when it just becomes normal that women are on the same level. For example, equal prize money is great, but we’re not talking about it any more in off-road. We appreciate it but we don’t need to celebrate it after every race. That is progress!”

Assuming the double role

The dynamic Czech rider never meant to get into the sport’s governance. She decided to stand as member of the UCI Athletes’ Commission in 2017 because she wanted to give back to a sport that had provided her with so many opportunities, not least UCI World Championship podiums and participation at three Summer Olympic Games. Things snowballed and she appears almost surprised that she is now one of the UCI’s four Vice-Presidents.

“I’ve been learning as I go along and have certainly learned a lot about the decision-making process. I get frustrated by people voicing strong opinions on social media without even trying to understand why a particular decision has been taken.

“So many times we turn up to a race and everything looks perfect. We get to race for the rainbow jersey – everybody’s dream – and that’s how it should be, right? Not everybody thinks about the financial obligations, the contracts, people closing down the roads… It’s good to be able to explain to the athletes all the considerations that go into every decision! OK, there would be no sport without the athletes, but there would be no World Championships without the UCI.

“The latest example is the introduction of a Women Under-23 title at the 2022 UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia. Some people are complaining and asking why there is not a separate race. Ok, so maybe it’s not perfect but look at it this way: this year a rider might be able to win two rainbow jerseys, for Under-23 and Elite. No rider in any other category or discipline will ever have that chance. So ‘go out there, enjoy it and you’ll have your own category race when the time is right’.”

New-look UCI Management Committee going into the future

Since September last year, six (one-third) of the UCI Management Committee members are women, compared to between one and two previously. It is a change that the UCI Vice President welcomes: “We have a very different-looking Management Committee now and that’s important. When you look around the meeting room now, it better reflects the reality of cycling today.

So, what can we look forward to in the next four years?

“We will continue to have all the amazing racing. That’s what everybody cares about.

“But I really hope we can get more people onto bikes. As we struggle with the environmental crisis, the fact that we have the tool that can help is a huge asset. That tool comes in different shapes and sizes, and it can have an engine. Everyone can find a bike to commute, to get fit, to have fun and to race.

“At the cyclo-cross UCI Worlds in Fayetteville there was no parking at the venue, so people had to take a shuttle. There was a bike park at the top of the hill and I couldn’t have been more proud to see people riding bicycles to a sporting event in America. It just doesn’t happen! It was so cool.

“We need to promote what the bicycle can do for society as a whole and I think the UCI can help inspire people in this direction.”