Nicole Cooke and Victoria Pendleton lend weight to Jess Varnish's claims that sexism is prevalent at the highest level of cycling after claims the 25-year-old made against British Cycling and Shane Sutton

Olympic champions Nicole Cooke and Victoria Pendleton have come out in support of Jess Varnish’s claims of sexism within British Cycling, which the 25-year-old made after being dropped from the Olympic programme.

While BC insist that Varnish was not offered a new contract based on her performances in recent years, the sprinter claims technical director Shane Sutton told her to “get on with having a baby”

Cooke, who won both the Olympic and World Championships road race in 2008, says that in her experience women are treated like “second-class citizens” from track cycling all the way up to the Tour de France.

Writing in the Guardian, Cooke said: “Hypocrisy and double standards in respect to gender are ingrained in cycling and many other sports but this is hidden in reports of events.”

Adding: “In 2008 when I won Olympic gold in Beijing, the day before, in the men’s road race, every single one of the four men riding for Team GB failed to finish.

“In 2006, Welsh Cycling sent me to defend my Commonwealth Games road race title as a team of one while fielding a full team of six male road riders. None of the six finished.”

She also cited the differences in the track events that men and women compete in, with the women’s team sprint over 500m, while the men complete 750m. The men’s time trial sprint is over 1000m, while the women race over half that distance.

Varnish, who won bronze medals in the time trial at both the World Championships and Commonwealth Games, was critical of the BC management after the women’s team failed to qualify for the team sprint at the Rio Olympics.


Watch: Lizzie Armitstead discuss her Rio build-up


After her contract was not renewed last week she alleged in an interview with the Daily Mail that Sutton said “with an ass like mine I couldn’t change position within the team sprint” and that she was “too old” to compete for a medal in Rio.

“I have my own personal experiences of Shane and sympathise with Jess,” Cooke said. “She was in the position so many have found themselves: speak out and your dreams will be destroyed and years of hard work wasted. Or put up with it and hope. I spoke out from the age of 19 and I know what happens.”

Pendleton also spoke of her experiences in the BC programme, during which she won two Olympic gold medals, and agreed with Varnish’s claims that sexism and bullying exist at the highest levels.

“I never really felt I had the same respect as my male team-mates,” she told the Telegraph. “My opinion wasn’t worth as much. I used to sit quietly in meetings and not say anything as I knew my opinions would be disregarded. And that’s after I had become Olympic champion and multiple world champion.

Womens podium Olympic road race 2008

Nicole Cooke celebrates taking gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympic road race

“You have to wonder why there isn’t a single woman in a position of leadership in the organisation,” she added. “If there’s a 50-50 split in terms of athletes, why isn’t there in terms of staff? Although that’s something that needs to be addressed in sport as a whole.”

Responding specifically to Cooke’s article, British Cycling said: “Riders in the Great Britain Cycling Team heading to Rio 2016 will receive all the support they need to be as good as they can be. A gold medal is valued by us, no matter who wins it and we are equally proud of all our Olympic and world champions.”

In relation to Varnish’s claims of sexism they said: “Following a review of every rider, the decision was made not to renew Jess’s place based on performances in training and competition, and on a projection of capability for a medal in Tokyo.

“The decision was upheld by an evaluation committee following an appeal by Jess. At no point in the performance review, the appeal process or in subsequent correspondence did Jess raise concerns about sexism, or any other form of discriminatory behaviour, in the GB team.

“However, we are fully committed to the principles and active promotion of equality of opportunity. As such, we treat any such allegations with the utmost seriousness and we will be contacting Jess to offer to discuss her concerns in full.”

Sutton also denies that he “said or did anything other than act with complete professionalism” in his dealings with Varnish.

  • NitroFan

    I think Rob TM makes the point perfectly.

  • NitroFan

    I do not disagree with your point in any way, but VP did make the comparison in 2012 as to how she was treated V the way BC dealt with LT & JK and is now throwing accusations around about the BC management I seem to remember SS was the guy who stood up for her when her boyfriend got the sack though.

  • RobTM

    Fraid it’s unprofessional for a coach to have a sexual relationship with one of their charges; for all sorts of good reasons. LT & JK are both athletes, with neither in a position of power over other so those considerations do not apply.

  • Weccy

    She chooses her fights & why not? Nothing was untoward with her relationship with the then teams’ fitness coach yet team GB made it out that way. Even to the point of making his position untenable. If any one knows what goes on behind the scenes she does

  • Colin

    The macho Aussie does seem to have a bit of history!

  • Hugh Strickland

    Women need to be in charge of women’s Sport. But that would be men losing power and that is very unlikely since power and money is at the root of this problem.

  • NitroFan

    Prior to this the only time I have heard Victoria Pendleton criticise British Cycling’s management was when she expressed the view that British Cycling’s relationship policy was applied less stringently to Laura Trott and Jason Kenny than it was to her and her now husbands relationship.

  • llos25

    It was not just performance but how she was told she was not good enough and what was said in doing so.

  • Dyl

    Jessy massey 😉

  • dourscot

    The decision was based on performance on the track, not age.

    Presumably another female athlete will have taken her place. If that individual’s data is better it would seem odd to choose Varnish over that person.

  • Rupert the Super Bear

    Chapeau to Nicole and Victoria for telling the truth.

  • Leodis75

    Her WC performance was all the public needed to see.

  • JohnGip

    This “performance review” is interesting. Here are the flying 200 times from the 2015 National Champs (Sept 2015):
    Katy Marchant 11.030 Jessica Varnish 11.149 Victoria Williamson 11.270 Rebecca James 11.294
    Varnish is the only one of the 4 (to date) who’s been told she’s not fast enough. By Tokyo Varnish will be 29, but Pendleton was over 30 in 2012, Jess Ennis is currently 30, there’s no evidence that 25-30 is a period of decline for sporting women. If BC have key power-data since October 2015 that suggests Jess has now slipped in the GB ranking you think they might give the data to her and explain the “facts” and avoided all this publicity. They don’t seem to have done that and in itself that is a failure of effective management, coaching and leadership.