WOLLONGONG - The French Cycling Federation on Saturday defended its decision to pay for business class seats for male cyclists while its women's team flew in economy on the long trip to the World Championships in Australia.
While the men's team, including two-time reigning world champion Julian Alaphilippe, travelled in comfort, the seven women riders as well as the rest of the delegation, including male and female competitors entered in the junior events and the support staff, were all in the back of the plane.
The report in a French newspaper provoked a storm of protest on social media.
Christophe Manin, French cycling's national technical director, told AFP that flying the team to Australia "costs a lot of money".
"Some countries, like Ireland, have decided not to participate in the World Championships. We asked ourselves if we should take all the categories, especially the juniors. We did it. But we don't have the means to put everyone in business," said Manin, who did not make the trip to save money.
He said the federation had based its decisions on one main criterion - the ability to compete for medals - and the men had better chances.
"For the men, we've been world champions for the last two years. We are really going there to win, while we are more of an outsider in the girls' competition," he said.
"If we had the mountain bike world championships in Australia with the same economic choice to make, we would put the two girls in business and the boys in economy," he added, because French women riders Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Loana Lecomte have better results than the men.
Meanwhile, riders are bracing themselves for an unusual threat in Wollongong this week - swooping magpies.
Wollongong, a coastal city around 80km south of Sydney that is hosting the eight-day event from Sunday, is home to flocks of the notoriously territorial birds.
September is peak swooping season as magpies seek to protect their young in the nest, which can include dive-bombing people on bikes that they perceive as a threat.
"Magpies can be quite territorial and there's going to be a lot going on in their particular areas," Paul Partland from the Illawarra Animal Hospital told local radio station Wave FM.
More than 1,000 cyclists from over 70 nations will be at the championships and although they will be wearing helmets, the threat from the sharp-beaked birds is a genuine concern.
"A fairly large bird came very close and it just kept following me," Belgian cyclist Remco Evenepoel said on Friday.
"It was terrifying. I hope it's the only time it happens."
Fellow time trial contender Stefan Kung also revealed that one of his Swiss teammates had already been attacked. AFP