Daily Briefing

Shane Sutton: Failed drugs test adds to cycling crisis

British rider's failed test was an 'administrative error' but more allegations against Sutton emerge

A disastrous week for British Cycling got worse on Thursday night when it was announced that Simon Yates, a former points race world champion and a contender for a spot on the Olympic road team, had failed a drugs test.

The news came a day after Shane Sutton stood down as technical director of British Cycling amid a welter of allegations of bullying and discrimination, and after claims that the official GB cycling kit, paid for by UK Sport, was being sold privately for profit on the internet.

Yates was not named by British Cycling, but his team Orica-GreenEdge confirmed that the 23-year-old tested positive for terbutaline, found in asthma inhalers, on 12 March, during the Paris-Nice race.

It claimed that an "administrative error" was to blame for the failed test, as the team doctor had failed to apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption for Yates's asthma medication.

The latest drama came on "the eve of one of the biggest races of the year, the Tour de Yorkshire", and caps "a tumultuous week", notes The Guardian.

Although Yates has not been banned and is no longer part of the British track cycling team the "news will undoubtedly come as a huge blow to British Cycling", says the Daily Telegraph.

"It had already been a bruising day for British Cycling with the governing body accused of having ignored claims of bullying and discrimination for years."

Among the new allegations it is claimed that British Cycling covered up a report into the programme's structure carried out after London 2012, says the Guardian, even though concerns over Sutton's approach were raised.

Meanwhile, according to The Times, "Sutton has agreed a severance deal that prohibits the Australian from working for any Olympic rivals until after Rio". Although the paper points out that the deal was agreed before yet more revelations about Sutton emerged, with claims that he was also working as a paid consultant for Dave Brailsford's Team Sky road team, but had not told his British Cycling bosses.

Shane Sutton: British Cycling in chaos ahead of Olympics

28 April

The departure of British Cycling's technical director, Shane Sutton leaves the team in "chaos" with the Rio Olympics less than 100 days away. The Australian quit yesterday over allegations of bullying and discrimination.

The dominant team in Olympic cycling will now head to the Games "without a key figure indelibly linked to its success", says William Fotheringham in The Guardian.

"Like a chicken with its head cut off that keeps running, the squad will function in the interim and will get to the Games. But there will be issues where Sutton would have played a key decision-making role; it will be harder to tie up those loose ends, and that will have an impact across the squad."

After more than ten years with British Cycling, Sutton's personality was writ large on the squad and he was fiercely committed to his "chosen" athletes, including Becky James, Laura Trott and Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Others, such as Wendy Houvenaghel, have described him as "a narcissistic little bully", while the way allegations against him escalated after Jess Varnish spoke out suggests he had as many enemies as friends.

With a "straight-talking, no-nonsense, utterly un-PC, and (in some eyes at least) unreconstructed Australian" at helm, there was "always the potential for fireworks", says Tom Cary of the Daily Telegraph.

"No one could argue with Sutton's results but his lacerating tongue ensured he fell out with even his biggest supporters from time to time. And, rather like Sir Alex Ferguson, one man’s genius coach was another man's bully. Many felt that he belonged in the latter camp."

His downfall may have begun with the departures of head coach Sir Dave Brailsford and team psychiatrist Steve Peters in 2014, whose soothing methods counterbalanced Sutton's abrasive approach, says Matt Dickinson in The Times.

"In their absence has come raw, undiluted Sutton, with no one to smooth the very rough edges," he says. That allowed gripes and grudges to fester. "That is what has forced Sutton out, as much as his alleged use of stupid language."

The British Cycling inquiry into Sutton's leadership will have to ask some hard questions about why nothing was done while the team was winning - and if it wants to go on winning, it will have to find a talented replacement fast.

"With Sutton, you get the very rough with the smooth and it will not be long before another team take his services in that knowledge, just as Team GB happily did for so long," concludes Dickinson.

British Cycling: Why was Shane Sutton suspended?

27 April

British Cycling's technical director has been suspended over allegations of sexism and bullying and claims he referred to Paralympic cyclists as "gimps" and "wobblies".

An internal investigation has been launched into the reports against Shane Sutton, plunging the Olympic cycling team into turmoil less than three months before the Rio games.

Earlier this week, cyclist Jess Varnish accused the organisation of sexism and lodged a complaint against the coach, who she has accused of creating "a culture of fear" in British Cycling. Other riders have backed her claims.

Subsequent allegations of discrimination surfaced in the Daily Mail, leading to the suspension of Sutton, who has been with British Cycling since 2002 and coached Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Bradley Wiggins.

British Cycling was regarded as one of the best-run and most efficient sporting organisations in the country, if not the world. But its reputation began to unravel after the women's team sprint squad failed to qualify for the Olympic games last month.

What happened in the team sprint?

Varnish and team-mate Katy Marchant finished fifth at the Cycling World Championships in London in March, not enough to get them to Rio after poor results earlier in the qualification process.

The riders - and Varnish in particular - blamed the coaches as less-proven riders, including two no longer with the Olympic programme, had taken part in the early rounds. "The squad were chasing their tail throughout the two-year qualification cycle," reports Cycling Weekly.

How did British Cycling react?

Earlier this month, it emerged in the Daily Telegraph that Varnish had been dropped from the British Cycling Olympic Podium Programme.

Sutton told the paper the decision was taken "purely on performance grounds" and added: "Jess is 25. She has been with us a long, long time. She qualified 17th in the match sprint [in London] so her chances of medalling in Rio were very, very slim if not none. And she hasn't gone as quick as she went three years ago... There is no point carrying on and wasting UK Sport's money on someone who is not going to medal going forward."

How did Varnish react

In a statement on her website this week, the cyclist said she had been assured the decision not to renew her contract would not be discussed publicly and that she was "devastated" to read Sutton's comments.

She retaliated in an interview with the Daily Mail, in which she claimed she had been told to quit cycling and "go and have a baby".

She added: "I've got a list as long as my arm about comments I've had about my figure and it's not right."

Who backed her claims?

Varnish's former team-mate, Victoria Pendleton, said she "wholeheartedly believes" the claims.  She described a "bullying, suffocating" culture in British Cycling and told the Daily Telegraph: "My experiences were very similar. And I know exactly how miserable they made me.”

Writing in The Guardian, Nicole Cooke, who won gold in the women's road race at the Beijing Olympics, said: "I have my own personal experiences of Shane and sympathise with Jess. 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.

"Hypocrisy and double standards in respect to gender are ingrained in cycling."

Why has Sutton been suspended?

Pressure on the 58-year-old Australian increased after claims in the Mail that he called had Paralympic cyclists "gimps" and "wobblies".

The allegations come from Darren Kenny, "one of Britain's most decorated para-cyclists", and other British Cycling sources who "claim that such highly discriminatory and crude language was used to describe elite athletes on the British para-cycling performance team", says the paper.

Kenny, who won six Paralympic golds in 2004 and 2008, when Sutton was the head coach, told the Mail: "I don't think we were ever considered to be elite athletes, in all honesty, by certain people and since I've left I've not seen or heard of any change towards equality."

Where does it leave British Cycling?

In "turmoil", according to the Telegraph, which says the organisation is "unashamedly cut-throat and performance-driven", but the experiences of many riders suggest "those charged with leading the organisation are, at best, lacking in empathy or emotional intelligence and at worst, guilty of straight-up bullying and sexism".

An independent review of the programme has been launched, along with an internal investigation into the claims against Sutton. There is a very real chance that Britain's cycling team will go to the Olympics without a figurehead.

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