Comment: Stef Wyman discusses the recent events surrounding British Cycling, Shane Sutton, and sexism within cycling

700 words, that’s all I’ve got. House of Cards got four series and to be fair this might be cycling’s equivalent.

I see comments targeted at British Cycling, but they aren’t the bad guys. British Cycling is an organisation with some amazing staff and dedicated coaches. We need to break down the target of “British Cycling” comments; there are four groups, as I understand: British Cycling (BC), World Class Performance (WCP), Team Sky, and then a sprinkling of potentially rouge individuals (allegedly).

Have I seen, heard or known of issues; of course, lots of people feel aggrieved, but it’s usually WCP (the lottery funded race element) that complaints are targeted at, not BC (the administration element).

But in all the years I’ve been involved in women’s cycling, my direct contact with WCP could be counted on one hand. I’ve worked with amazing riders over the years, but WCP are a closed book.

They know we exist, but we’re insignificant to them. It feels to me like we are governed by a few, who operate with an air of entitlement. I want a fair and accountable BC, WCP and Team Sky all working with separate staff, from separate bases, with zero cross over, other than selected riders. I’d like question marks removed.

The current issues aren’t centred on sexism, equality and prejudice, the problem is the culture: it’s a them and us situation. Our national road champion made a bit of a booboo with his tweets.

>>> Peter Kennaugh apologises for tweets criticising Emma Pooley’s sexism claims

He’s a hero to many, girls and boys, but he must remember there are three sides to every story: Their Side, Your Side, and Twitter’s Side. If you don’t want twitter’s side, don’t tweet it.

Much has been made about equality but we aren’t even asking for real equality, just a fair crack of the whip. Emma Pooley isn’t “self-centred” and she’s had to get over a lot. A call for a women’s Team Sky by Emma, a podium finisher in a Grand Tour (something I’m guessing Mr Kennaugh is aspiring to be) is old news.

I’m confident in saying Emma wasn’t asking for £24m per annum, the reported budget of Team Sky. She’d be looking at around £1m to put an unrivalled women’s team in place. That team would have been the chicken; people in the UK knowing about the women’s Giro d’Italia is the egg.

We’ve heard that Shane Sutton is a straight shooter, I’m cool with that, but nasty isn’t all you can shoot straight. Perhaps he’s “bad cop”, but in recent years he’s lacked a good cop sidekick.

The culture in BC & WCP isn’t helping educate riders in what’s seemingly obvious to others, separate academy systems in different countries isn’t helping. But all the blame isn’t just on WCP, Sutton, Dave Brailsford, etc. Accusing eyes should be peering into boardrooms, where these outrageous decisions are made to exclude women from cycling budgets.

Perhaps if those sponsoring teams had a recently calibrated moral compass, there would be greater pressure to change the culture. We need to check we have the latest firmware update.

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Will this furore affect the team performance in Rio? Absolutely not, provided selections are correct, our riders will go there and battle hard for every medal. We are the richest cycling nation, expectations are high.

But Shane was the performance director, meaning he directed. The coaches with the day-to-day contact with the riders are still there, working hard. This might bring the team together. They’ll move on, perform to their maximum, that’s how winners work.

We have to remember that as coaches, directors and motivators (to many), WCP enjoy unparalleled success, all be it with unparalleled budgets. They’ve been called all sorts of things this week, because allegedly they called people all sorts of things over the past years. But we have to respect their success, and hope in the future we can find a new method to repeat that success in a new happy harmony.

Much of this allegedly unhappy period behind closed doors at WCP & BC was under the watch of Brian Cookson. He passed over to the UCI, giving us new hope, for several minutes, that the system might change. Broken promises followed, buried under piles of frustration, as women’s cycling treads water awaiting real change.

I turn to movies and music for my escapism in life. The last week has taken me back to real classic, Team America. They claim in this marionette masterpiece there are three types of people in this world, and this week we’ve seen all three clearly on display.

But maybe, going forward, a fourth kind of person will be found, who’ll not only provide us the stability we need in cycling in the UK, but also ensure a sequel to this classic movie is brought to the big screen sooner rather than later.

Stef Wyman is owner of women’s cycling team Matrix Fitness p/b Corley Cycles and husband of champion cyclocross rider Helen Wyman

  • Michael

    “I have dealt with ‘rejection’ on many occasions in the past half century”

    That’s not a surprise.

  • Dave2020

    Dear Michael,

    In common with the majority of inventors, I have dealt with ‘rejection’ on many occasions in the past half century. It is, naturally, very annoying when international intellectual property law forces designers to pay state-sponsored parasites tens of thousands of pounds for the basic human right of claiming ‘ownership’ of their ideas. (whereas copyright is free and protected by law.)

    Being told to ‘go away and prove it’ by a couple of self-styled ‘experts’ is water off a duck’s back.

    You can read – “My only concern is for the health of the athletes.” – but you can’t understand that? Is that because you subscribe to a society that views altruism as foreign to human nature? Very sad.

    For the love of cycling, please try to get over it.

    Dave Smart

  • Michael

    You obviously give a toss because you’ve been crying like a stuck pig in this comment section for years.

    You lost. Get over it.

  • Luke Anderson

    Dave, go have a cup of tea.

  • Dave2020

    I couldn’t give a toss if they “said no”. It’s no skin off my nose, but it’s caused no end of damage to dozens of talented athletes. You have the same callous disregard for them as BC does?

    Varnish’s statement was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The failure to qualify for the Olympic team sprint was a management blunder. She’s an innocent scapegoat.

    After the 2008 Olympics Dave Brailsford said; “We can’t do the same things for the next four years. We’ve got to stimulate coaches to come up with new ideas.” They failed to come up with anything new back then and they never have since. Brailsford didn’t say what could be done differently and team Sky coaches haven’t come up with anything better either. (witness Wiggo’s poor 2013 season)

    “The last few World Championships haven’t gone that well, but it hasn’t changed our approach. We were disappointed at the time, but we go away, have a break and just do the same thing again.” – Jason Kenny – from a 2016 interview!

    “Jason needs to get back in the gym, get stronger and build a strong foundation for the summer.” Craig MacLean – March 2011. Many riders believe in training myths, which are built on sand.

  • Michael

    So many words but all your posts say “boo hoo hoo British cycling said no to me”

  • Dave2020

    People reading this can judge for themselves which of us has a calm grip on the situation.

    In today’s Observer, William Fotheringham recalls being told that, “the British Cycling Olympic programme was built on sand”. That refers to its structure. Fotheringham has little knowledge of the training methods, but they have a similar foundation, much like your 100% confidence.

    BC management try to justify their decision on Varnish. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? But it’s a vain (in both senses of the word) attempt to defend the indefensible. When you’re in a hole of your own making, stop digging.

    My advice has a solid foundation – the laws of physics. “Take it or leave it.” is the antithesis of the bully’s approach, as the athlete can use their own judgement, whereas Iain Dyer told Jess, “If you don’t put on weight you’re not going anywhere.” That was before the back injury put her out for four months. The squats and deadlifts were ‘designed’ to develop “10kg of muscle”. That’s a futile exercise – in fact impossible, purely as muscle.

  • Michael

    Limited success. Hahaha.

    Get a grip Dave.

    On the contrary, I’m confident my “assumptions” about you are 100% spot on.

  • Dave2020

    You laud their limited success and ignore the far more numerous failures. i.e. occasions when our star performers were out injured or below par, recovering from injury. You also ignore all the battered bodies that failed to make the selection. Let’s have full disclosure by BC of the catalogue of training injuries suffered in the past decade. Everybody falls for the line; “The results speak for themselves.” because they are unaware of the tragic cost. You try telling Varnish that a prolapsed disc is the price she has to pay to get to the Olympics!!!!

    You wrongly assume I am, or want to be a coach. Jamie Staff made the same assumption. To quote his exact words:-

    “I suggest that you may find some volunteers and try out some of your training ideas. If you prove us wrong, I’m sure there will be a coaching spot for you.” 8/12/2009.

    I was trying to save them from themselves, but they felt offended at being offered good advice. It was more than their ‘inner chimps’ could bear.

    My ‘ideas’ were proven four decades earlier, but I did ‘put up’ and help some individuals to avoid the worst excesses of BC’s damaging regime. The bullying and sexism are only part of the problem.

    I’m not going to tell you who those riders are, but they are proof that BC coaching is bad for you. I have never charged a penny for my advice – ‘take it or leave it’ is my motto.

  • Michael

    I can’t understand a word you’re saying while you’re crying and wailing like that. Sit down and calm down.

    Odd that since you believe you’d do so much better that you haven’t been snapped up by all the competition – after all there must be several countries national teams who want nothing else than to beat team GB.

    Yet team GB have enjoyed all this success whilst you just blather away like a rejected teenager in Internet comments about how the most successful cycling team are doing it all wrong.

    “Put up or shut up” should be your motto.

  • Dave2020

    Nothing to do with it. My only concern is for the health of the athletes. Jamie Staff wrote that he could understand my point, but he thought I was wrong. That was before he retired with a bad back!

  • Chris

    It does seem a rather flimsy base to build a case. Circumstantial evidence is not normally acceptable in law. Also I think that a number of riders both male and female have come forward praising Sutton, so it is unfair to say that he has been ineffective. Those riders are in a better position to judge than Dave 2020. Or is their word not to be taken?

  • Michael

    “speculating on what the facts probably are”

    Jesus Christ. Did you type this with a straight face?

  • Michael

    Maybe that explains why he was wrong.

  • Michael

    Don’t be silly, his contribution to GB cycling has been significant and immense.

    Of course, you’re the guy constantly boo-hoo-hooing in CW’s comment section about GB cycling because they rejected you and your device.

  • Stefan Wyman

    …..which is exactly what i ask for in the article.

  • Dave2020

    “Nobody has seen that data.” Exactly, which is why her dismissal should not be allowed to stand.

    All those responsible for the decision will argue ‘confidentiality’ or some such nonsense, because the facts won’t justify their actions. Law makers, prosecution, judge and jury, all rolled into one!

    Justice must be seen to be done. Only BC can allow it to be seen. What we have now is damage limitation and a cover up. What we need is complete transparency – nothing less.

  • Stefan Wyman

    Hi Dave, just to confirm… written in the article, I have no relationship with the BC Management, or that of WCP. I therefore have no relationship to protect.

    I fully support Jess being able to speak out. I’m glad she did. I fully support the best riders going to Rio, including Jess, and being part of the GB set up, and funded.

    I have no idea of the details of the performance aspects of Jess being removed from the program. Nobody, including her has seen that data. Jess seems like a pretty amazing bike rider to me, I read the race reports as you do most likely and watch the same TV coverage. I don’t work in track sprinting, so hard to comment more. But I’m a fan.

    So, just to confirm, what I call for, is the best riders to be able to ride for team GB. Simple as that.

  • Dave2020

    “this guy must have been pretty useless for the past few years” Actually, worse than useless long before his bullying nature became public knowledge. Do you really think BC’s star athletes would have won fewer medals, if Sutton had never left Oz? You’ve been deceived, matey.

  • Dave2020

    Wyman should be calling for Varnish to be reinstated, but that would sour his relationship with BC management, unfortunately. There are undoubtedly many good people in the organisation, who would speak out on her behalf, if they thought they wouldn’t lose their jobs or harm their selection prospects. That was the unenviable position Jess found herself in. What happens to those who tell the truth, when that truth reflects badly on those in power?

    The bullies can’t touch me for speculating on what the facts probably are. They make their denials public when unsavoury allegations surface – well, they would, wouldn’t they?! Are they obliged to tell the truth at an inquiry? If not, why not? Is only documentary evidence valid? I understand that it exists, but who controls access to it? Ian Drake was given evidence that Shane Sutton was not a suitable candidate for the post, but chose to dismiss it.

    Drake accepted the prejudiced judgement (wounded pride) of Iain Dyer and Shane Sutton and acceded to their decision to not renew Varnish’s contract (the bully’s revenge). That is wholly unacceptable. It is a decision he must now rescind or he is as guilty as they are. (If the inquiry finds against Sutton). Jess should not be punished for doing nothing wrong. That is the common fate of whistleblowers and it cannot be allowed to happen.

    Dave Brailsford was not above public bully-speak in his criticism of vulnerable athletes, but when the truth regarding management failure (team sprint qualifying) is spoken in public it’s a sacking offence. Leaves a very bad taste. . . .

    Of course, certain sprint coaches won’t be able to work with Varnish, but that’s the best thing for her, since BC’s training regime has done more harm than good. The catalogue of injuries is a matter of record.

  • Tim Phillips

    I think you’ll find he’s a HE!

  • Michael

    Interesting comments. Like Nicole Cooke she has actually some intelligent comments about sexism in cycling, rather than the “He said I had a big bum” “But miss, she said I had a big nose!” playground stuff.

    I can’t really agree with her, however, that Shane going makes no difference to Rio.

    It’s the BC line too, and let’s face it, if him going really is going to make no difference in 100 days, then clearly this guy must have been pretty useless for the past few years and it must have been pretty pointless him turning up.

    For sure, ultimately no one is indispensable but, at this point, it obviously will affect Rio results.

    Ok, I’ll accept that a few stalwarts like Wiggins are probably at stages in their career where they are probably autonomous. That said, Hoy’s praise of Sutton in recent articles suggests that he valued Sutton. Similarly Geraint Thomas has said “Shane is one of the main reasons I am where I am today”

    It’s even questionable for Rio whether Brailsford’s absence will hurt results. For BC and GB cyclists to now suggest that neither DB nor SS’s absence will matter is, frankly, ludicrous.