Former world time trial champion Emma Pooley has said that “a fish rots from the head” as she criticised Sir Dave Brailsford for overseeing what she described as “a culture of fear” when he was performance director at British Cycling.
Speaking to Jeremy Whittle of The Times (£), Pooley, who testified to the independent review of British Cycling, described its report, leaked last week, as “pretty shocking.”
The 34-year-old retired from professional cycling in August 2014 following a career in which she won some of the biggest stage and one day races in the sport, as well as Olympic silver in the time trial at Beijing in 2008.
She returned to the peloton a little more than a year later, targeting the time trial at last year’s Rio Olympics, where she finished 14th, as well as supporting Lizzie Deignan in the road race.
She told The Times: “The report is pretty shocking, even speaking as someone who gave evidence.
“But I think, when people criticise, they need to think back to who is providing the leadership and not tar everyone with the same brush.
“Rather than blaming everyone, people need to look at who was setting that culture.”
She said: “It doesn’t mean that everyone in British Cycling is flawed like that. I’m sure some of them would have liked to have done things differently, but were fearful of doing so.”
Brailsford was described in the independent review panel’s report as being “untouchable” during his spell with British Cycling before he left in early 2014 to focus full-time on his role as Team Sky principal.
Referring to comments she has made in the past about British Cycling, Pooley said: “Dave did not lead alone. I’ve had my criticisms for years but, back then, when the media thought Dave Brailsford was the best sports coach in the world, everyone thought I was mad.
“I can say with certainty that not everyone who works there is sexist or a bully or runs a culture of fear — absolutely not. But there were differences in how different riders were treated.
“It’s hard when you’re in the system to know if you’re being treated differently because you’re a woman or for other reasons,” she continued.
“I think some of the men had a hard time as well. Competitive sport is a difficult ship to run. There were definitely differences in treatment because of gender but that’s common across cycling.”
Pooley has long said that Team Sky, which began racing in 2010, should have run a woman’s team alongside the men’s one, pointing out in an interview with the Guardian last year that British Cycling and its staff were closely involved with the UCI WorldTour team in its early years.
In response to Pooley’s question as to why British Cycling had not put resources into supporting a women’s team, Team Sky rider Peter Kennaugh said on Twitter that she should ““Stop being so self-centred and get over it,” a post for which he subsequently apologised.
In her latest interview, she told The Times: “I regard the lack of a Sky women’s team as a missed opportunity.
If I was a 12-year-old girl thinking of taking up cycling, why would I be inspired by a men’s team? Why didn’t Sky insist there was a women’s team?”
The blurred lines between British Cycling and Team Sky were highlighted last year when it emerged that British Cycling employee Simon Cope – then manager of the Great Britain women’s road team – had delivered the mystery medical package to the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine.
The package, taken by Cope to former Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman during a day return trip from London Gatwick to the French Alps via Geneva, is being investigated by UK Anti-doping as well as a House of Commons select committee that is examining doping in sport.
When the Daily Mail’s Matt Lawton, who broke the story last October, interviewed Brailsford ahead of publication, the Team Sky boss told him that the package was in fact meant for Pooley.
However, she told Lawton that on the day in question, she was racing in Spain’s Basque region.
“I absolutely was not at the Dauphiné Libéré [the race’s former name] in 2011, or any other year, and I absolutely did not meet Simon Cope there,” she said.
“That day I was at the Bira-Emakumeen-Bira stage race in the Pays Basque in Spain. I lost the yellow jersey on a rainy dangerous descent.”
Brailsford confirmed to MPs in December that the package was indeed intended for Wiggins, and claimed that it contained the decongestant Fluimucil, which is not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List.
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.