British team head coach Shane Sutton says he would welcome the return of Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish to the track team for the Rio Olympics in 2016 but criticism of Sir David Brailsford after the team’s men won no medals at the track world championships this past weekend is misplaced.
It’s been an embarrassing weekend for the men of the British track cycling team. At the world championships in Cali, Colombia, Britain’s women took five medals including a gold in the team pursuit after a thrilling battle with Canada. The men, however, are coming home empty-handed.
Head coach Shane Sutton told The Times’ Alyson Rudd that his boys simply need to raise their game, and in particular should look to two of Britain’s top riders for inspiration.
“I’ve always said, if you define greatness, you look at Mark Cavendish and you look at Brad Wiggins. If anyone can do this, they could do it. Cav’s pedigree on the track is phenomenal and Brad’s record speaks for itself. He will leave this sport a legend.”
Both Wiggins and Cavendish have said they would like to ride on the track in 2016, and that’s a prospect Sutton is taking seriously.
“Age is no bar,” he said. “[Wiggins] is 33. Sir Chris [Hoy] was winning gold medals at 36. Yes, I think we probably do need one or two of them to put their hand up and say, ‘That is my goal, I will be there and I will start my journey on such and such a date.’ ”
But the question remains: what went wrong in Cali? Sutton said his riders were simply not in good enough condition because they had not prepared hard enough over Christmas.
“What they did over that break at Christmas has come back to haunt them. They need to look at themselves. They got it wrong; they went out over the festive season and came back and shouldn’t have been where they were.
“I’m not saying they went out on the piss; what I’m saying is, there are younger guys in the Aussie team that are performing better, riding the times we had been previously. Everybody’s got to stop making excuses and understand where we are and make it right, but if we don’t learn from it, we can’t make it right.
“We don’t live with these guys 24/7, so they need to put a mirror up to themselves right now. I’ve got concerns with the current crop of riders we’ve got and it’s only them that can change.”
As head coach, though, Sutton said responsibility for the team’s performance is ultimately his and his alone. It does not lie with performance director Sir Dave Brailsford, who did not travel to Cali with the team.
“The buck stops with me and I’m big enough to take it,” Sutton said. “Dave has been the greatest leader for GB going back to Clive Woodward and the Rugby World Cup. Dave’s not here. The accountability of these performances rest totally with me, not Dave.
“He trusts me. We weren’t having this conversation 12 months ago when Dave wasn’t there [in Minsk]. For people to start pointing the finger at him is unfounded. I, as head coach, need to accept responsibility for that. I think any criticism of Dave would be unfounded. This guy’s been the greatest leader in British sport history. His legacy will go on and on.
“There’s no two ways about it. You don’t lead the team to the success it’s had for people to sit back and start criticising. Look at the work he’s done with Team Sky at the moment. We’re winning and winning.”
Nevertheless, Brailsford has questioned whether he can continue to oversee both the national track squad and Team Sky. Chris Boardman has said that he believes Brailsford is the best man for the Team GB role, but if he elects to stand down he should do so quickly so a replacement can be found.
Sutton, on the other hand, has no plans to step aside. “I don’t want to go anywhere,” he said. “I want to stay here, I want to take them in to Rio and in to Tokyo if I’ve got the opportunity. My appetite is as big as ever. I love it and I love the riders.”
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.