What a week for British Cycling? From an alleged sexism and bullying scandal against their Olympic program boss Shane Sutton that has seen the hard nosed Australian resign his post, to a positive drug test for Orica GreenEdge’s young British star Simon Yates that has thrown his reputation into doubt despite claims by the team of an administration error, to the Tour of Romandie were Ben Swift was taken to hospital following a crash and Chris Froome struggled in the GC following a mechanical incident on stage one that left him behind.
It certainly kept the British sports writers busy and perhaps gave British cycling more dirty linen on the sports pages than they might have hoped for, especially in a week that seen two million spectators line the roads to watch the Tour de Yorkshire pass by; a race won in the end by a Frenchman, Thomas Voeckler, but which seen Simon’s brother Adam Yates finish third overall, while at Romandie, Froome bounced back with a stage win.
The Sutton scandal, or as every scandal likes to be known in today’s world: Sutton-gate, or British-Cycling-Sexism-Gate, got underway in earnest on April 23 when British track rider Jess Varnish made the allegations of sexism against Sutton, claiming that upon being dropped from the Olympic program she was told by Sutton that she was too old, too fat and that she should go “have a baby”. The pressure only mounted three days later when British cycling legend’s Victoria Pendleton and Nicole Cooke both made claims of sexism within the British Cycling structure and although Sutton denied any wrong doing he was suspended by British Cycling a day later when they launched an independent review into the claims and soon resigned his post.
It’s a hard one to call. There is no doubt that Sutton is a hard task master but other cyclists have also came out in support of him claiming that he’s more a hard task master who enforces a strict sense of discipline with an expectation of results, than a bully with an anti-female agenda. You get the impression of a military academy than a sports club with Sutton at the helm and when his job requirements are to justify the large sums of public funds that are poured into the program with results, you can see why he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. This isn’t your average work place; shouting and screaming and motivating to improve by a tenth of a second and to maintain discipline is an approach not new in the elite sporting world. I also get the impression of a Sir Alex Ferguson type who would berate his players with the hairdryer treatment, but who would also go beyond the extra mile to ensure they weren’t without. Indeed, Sutton may have done a lot of shouting and with it came words that didn’t sit well with some, but as he himself asked: Where was Victoria Pendleton’s issue with him and the program when he was decorating her house at 3am one morning?
Still, there is a line and it’s clear that if Sutton said what is claimed, then he crossed it. There’s maintaining discipline without delving into insults; there’s driving your athletes hard without driving them out. There is no denying the results: A string of gold medals over the past two Olympics and a leap from a nation on the fringes of track cycling to one that is the dominant force, and as a result the money continued to flow. So credit then to British Cycling for acting and not trying to make this go away in the hopes of retaining Sutton, but you have to wonder how it will affect the program going forward?
David Walsh wrote an excellent piece about this in the Sunday Times this past weekend and summed it up with the following thought: “In Sutton’s absence, British Cycling will be a more politically correct place. There will be less madness. There will be fewer swear words. And there will be fewer medals.”
So with that headache in the forefront of their minds, British Cycling likely didn’t need to hear that a British rider had tested positive and that his team, OricaGreenedge were blaming them for the leak. On April 28, right in the thick of the sexism scandal, Simon Yates failed a test for terbutaline – an inhaler. Orica GreenEdge admitted an administrative error on their part in which the team doctor forgot to file the TUE to allow Yates to use it, but accused British Cycling of leaking the news of the positive test to the media.
It would seem that it was indeed an error and that there was no intent to actually cheat for performance gain by Yates and as such he’ll have the chance to present this case to the UCI and hope to get off with a warning. Still, such things tend to hang over a cyclists reputation in this day and age.
Thank goodness for the racing then. The Tour of Yorkshire was a big success and the Tour of Romandie was won by Nairo Quintana who will clearly be the favourite going into this years Tour de France. Chris Froome’s hopes were dashed early when he lost a stack of time to a mechanical, but he did bounce back with a stage win proving that he’s still got it and won’t make life for Quintana too easy. One of the best performances beyond that of Quintana was that of Thibaut Pinot who continued to show his evolution as a potential Grand Tour winner by taking the individual time-trial stage and finishing second overall to Quintana at 19 seconds. Pinot has been in superb form this year finishing 5th overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, 1st overall with two of three stage wins at Critérium International, 4th overall at Pais Vasco, and 2nd here with three top 5 finishes.
But why end this weeks update on a happy note. On a further downside for British Cycling or the promotion of it, the millions watching on the roadsides of Yorkshire were the only ones who got to see a lot of Saturday’s action as the second stage of the men’s race and the one-day women’s race was hit by a blackout of live television coverage due to a technical hitch with the airplane used to provide pictures. A shame for the women’s side especially who had been hoping to further promote their racing on live TV. Still, all in all the event was a success once again highlighting just how popular the sport of cycling is in the UK despite some of the bad press.
Rider of the week:
Nairo Quintana for his strong showing throughout the Tour de Romandie and placing himself as the man to beat come July.
Rider of the month of April:
Three Monuments in April at the height of the spring classics season and three different winners, and while Peter Sagan was excellent and Wout Poels brought Sky their first Monument win, it was Mat Hayman who deserves it for a superb ride at Roubaix. Bouncing back from an early season injury to prepare for Roubaix on his turbo-trainer, the Australian got in the days early break and made it stick when the big contenders linked up with him later.