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by Anne-Marije Rook
April 28, 2016
Photography by Luke Webber/British Cycling
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Suspended by British Cycling late on Tuesday evening over allegations of discriminatory behaviour against female and paracycling competitors, Shane Sutton and the federation have chosen not to wait until the outcome of a pending hearing on the matter.
Instead, Sutton has announced his resignation from the federation he has worked for for many years, and of which he is technical director. He took over from Dave Brailsford in that role, and was at the head of Britain’s push for gold medals in the Rio Olympics.
Communicating the decision via a British Cycling statement, the Australian-born English resident said that he didn’t want the issue to distract from the upcoming goals.
“Today starts the 100-day countdown to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It is absolutely crucial that, as our athletes begin their final preparations for Rio, they are able to do so free of distraction,” he said.
“The developments over the past few days have clearly become a distraction. It is for this reason, and having spoken to friends and family, that I believe it is in the best interests of British Cycling for me to step down from my position as technical director.”
Sutton has denied claims made in recent days that he was dismissive of female athletes, an allegation raised by Jess Varnish after she was told she would have no further place within British Cycling.
She told the Daily Mail that Sutton had told her she was “too old” and that she should “move on and get a baby.” She further elaborated on those claims in a statement released on Tuesday.
The situation intensified when claims were made on Tuesday that he had been derogatory towards paracycling competitors.
He said that he wanted to tell his side of the story.
“It is important that the review announced by British Cycling and UK Sport now takes place, and I will obviously co-operate fully with this. I have made clear that I reject the specific claims that have been made against me in recent days, and I look forward to taking a full part in the review process so I can respond to the allegations in detail.
“Cycling is my passion and I have always worked to get the very best out of professional athletes. I am proud of what British Cycling has achieved and I am excited by the potential of the team for Rio. They will always have my full support.”
It is unclear if he could be reinstated pending the outcome of the enquiry, or if his time with the federation is definitely at an end.
The tone of British Cycling chief executive Ian Drake’s own statement on the matter suggests the latter might be the case.
“I want to put on record my thanks to Shane for his work with British Cycling and the part he has played in our success,” he wrote in the same statement. “We have a lot to be proud of and, with the Olympics and Paralympics this summer, a lot to look forward to.
“I understand and respect Shane’s decision to stand down. His primary focus has always been the athletes, and this decision is something he has taken to allow them to focus on their preparation for Rio.”
He said that British Cycling’s Programmes Director Andy Harrison would be taking over with immediate effect and will manage the team in the build-up to Rio 2016.
Parallel to that, the enquiry will continue into the allegations made by Varnish and the concerns raised by other female athletes plus some of Britain’s Paracyclists.
“As we announced yesterday, we are now putting in place an independent review with UK Sport so that we can investigate the allegations that have been raised in recent days about the culture within the Great Britain Cycling Team.
“We continue to be committed to promoting equality of opportunity and providing a supportive environment within British Cycling.”
In addition to his work with British Cycling, Sutton has been an important part of Bradley Wiggins’ support structure during his career. He has been described in the past as a type of father figure, and has been credited with helping the at-times distractible Wiggins to focus.