Olympic silver medallist Wendy Houvenaghel has said she suffered “bullying” and “harassment” while riding for the Great Britain Cycling Team, and has also accused British Cycling of “ageism.”
The 42-year-old from Northern Ireland was speaking to BBC Sport ahead of the forthcoming publication of the report from the independent review into British Cycling, details of which were leaked earlier this month, and which Houvehagel said “vindicated” her.
She won Olympic silver in the individual pursuit in Beijing in 2008, losing in the final to fellow Team GB rider Rebecca Romero.
That event was dropped for London 2012, which featured a women’s team pursuit for the first time.
But despite riding for the squad in the run-up to the Olympics and being named in the Team GB squad, she did not ride in any of the rounds, meaning she missed out on a gold medal.
Speaking to BBC Sport about that experience five years ago, she said: “It was definitely not about performance. I don't think the fastest team on the day were permitted to race.
"There are certain chosen riders on the team who will not have experienced the culture of fear and will not have been on the receiving end of that – the bullying, the harassment, being frozen out of opportunities.
"It was horrid - it was not the training environment I expected. There was no choice. If you rocked the boat, you were out. There was no alternative.
"Medals at any cost, that's how it was whenever I was there, certainly in 2012," added Houvenaghel, a former RAF dentist who is now in private practice in Cornwall.
Laura Kenny, Joanna Rowsell-Shand and Dani King rode in all three rounds at London 2012 and clinched gold for Team GB. Their average age was 21, and Houvenhagel, aged 37 at the time, believes that she was discriminated against because of that.
She said: "I can certainly relate to the bullying. For me personally, I felt it was more ageism - being a little bit older than my team-mates, it didn't seem to be something that the staff necessarily wanted for our team in 2012.
"They didn't care about what happened to me afterwards. I never heard another thing from them.
"After six years of constantly medalling at World Cups, World Championships, nationals, both on the track and on the road, they discarded me in a very undignified way from the team, which I don't feel was right."
Following her disappointment at missing the chance of a gold medal at London 2012 – Team GB stuck with the trio of Laura Kenny, Joanna Rowsell-Shand and Dani King throughout the three rounds, with only riders who raced earning a medal – Houvenaghel said she had been treated “shabbily” by British Cycling management.
She claimed that she had not been given the chance to ride the team pursuit despite Rowsell-Shand being ill.
She said: I feel particularly aggrieved that the head coach made the decision to put in a rider who wasn’t 100 per cent well on the start line twice. Thankfully, the girls did go on to win their race but perhaps, had I been allowed to do my job, that world record could have been faster.
“I do feel I have been deliberately omitted from an opportunity that was mine and the opportunity to bring home a gold medal to Northern Ireland.”
“I’ve been treated really shabbily by an organisation which I have been dedicated to for six years, have won many medals for and have been a key member of the team pursuit team.
“To not allow me to ride in a three-minute race, which I can do with my eyes closed, practically, and let me pick up my Olympic gold medal was just vindictive and something which is going to take a lot of getting over,” she added.
The independent review of British Cycling was ordered by UK Sport last year after allegations of discrimination and bullying were levelled at figures including former Great Britain Cycling Team technical director Shane Sutton by riders such as track sprinter Jess Varnish and multiple Paralympic champion Darren Kenny.
Details of the report, which is highly critical of British Cycling’s past and present management, were leaked earlier this month.
A week earlier British Cycling, which had been given a draft copy of the report in December, had revealed details of an action plan agreed with UK Sport to address the issues raised by the independent review.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.