Shane Sutton interview: 'British Cycling has gone stale...' says coach
The coach tells Robin Scott-Elliot that he needs to redefine his role within GB set-up after poor recent run
Friday 11 April 2014
Shane Sutton is beginning his fourth decade in this country, spanning a time when cycling has gone from sport's slipstream to the mainstream. It has been a happy exile, exchanging New South Wales for old South Wales, in particular the last decade of his stay during which he has formed the militant wing of the triumvirate that has sat at the top of British cycling and turned it into one of the world's most consistently successful sporting entities. Steve Peters, Sir Dave Brailsford and Sutton have ushered the sport's mind, body and soul through an era of medal after medal.
Eras, though, are finite – you don't have to wander far from British Cycling's Manchester base to be reminded of that – and two years on from the glories of London 2012, Sutton and Brailsford are reflecting on Britain's worst return from a World Track Championships during their reign, while Peters now has broader interests. He is not the only one: Dan Hunt and Matt Parker, key members of the coaching staff, have been lured to the Premier League and Stuart Lancaster's England rugby set-up respectively. That's the other thing about success – others want a piece of it.
There is change in the Manchester air, with more perhaps to come. The failure of Britain's men – the women are in good shape – in Colombia last month was a shock to the well-oiled system and it has left Sutton, a man who addresses a spade as you would expect, to question not only his riders' worth but also his own.
"I was very critical," he says, "and I will say it again – honesty and integrity is part of the armoury. If people don't like that then so be it. Put the mirror up to yourself – we didn't perform.
"We need to freshen things up – we have been around a long time, Dave and I. I need freshening up for sure. I need a new challenge – the role of head coach is quite stale now in the sense that I have been head coach a long time. I am looking to freshen up, whether I move to another area, maybe a technical director or something I don't know. We need different bodies underneath us on the ground."
When criticism was directed at Brailsford post-Colombia, suggesting he does not have enough time for his track job as well as his lead role with Team Sky – for whom Sutton remains a performance advisor – Sutton leapt to Brailsford's defence. But he has been giving much thought to his own role.
The Australian is somebody who thinks out loud, mulling over what lies ahead. When he says "freshen up", does he mean move on? He shakes his head but then says again: "We probably do need freshening up. I will still be head coach, but whether I get down to the nitty-gritty, hands-on department, as I did going into London, I'm not so sure.
"Who knows? They might think the change is needed more than I think the change is needed. It could be that we need to see if we can do it a little bit differently."
Sutton and Brailsford teamed up after the Athens Olympics in 2004. In Beijing, Britain won seven of the 10 track golds, and in London they went one better. Britain's two cycling knights – or "icons" as Sutton calls them (a term he also attaches glowingly to Laura Trott) – are plain in their admiration for his part in their achievements. Sir Chris Hoy's retirement has left a super-thighed hole in the British men's track team, although it may yet be filled by Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Talk of Wiggins returning to the track for one last go in Rio has drifted around. Sutton would welcome it – he remains close to Wiggins – but, he suggests, the poor performance by the men's team pursuit in Colombia (they finished qualifying in eighth) will not encourage a comeback.
"If he is looking for that final curtain it would be a great way to go out," says Sutton. "But we would need to put a team there capable of delivering that medal ride with him.
"I would welcome him back tomorrow. It's something that Brad and I have to talk about. If anyone can do it he can. But is his desire and commitment going to be there? Brad would really have to make that decision next year."
Before then, Wiggins has this season to face after last year's frustrations. Will he and Chris Froome ride the Tour de France, with its glorious British Grand Depart, together? "Do you want me to bullshit you or tell you the truth?" replies Sutton and grins disarmingly. "Do I see Chris and him riding together? I would hope so. But I'm not so sure. Brad has to roll his sleeves up and get the work done and get in that team – being in Britain, he wants to make the Tour.
"That Tour team really is Froome's team – he's the current holder and there's a lot of faith in him at Team Sky. They will put the best riders available on the grid for Chris to win the Tour come July and I'm not sure whether Brad is going to be on that list. Only Brad can say that by winning big races and showing the team he is worthy of his place."
Sutton, himself a track rider who switched to the road, long championed the idea of a British road racing team. In 1987 he was part of the first British-based pro team in the Tour – it ended in disaster. Tony Capper, the owner, disappeared as the team collapsed. Sutton had always wanted to do it properly and was involved in setting up Team Sky, including a key point in its birth: zero tolerance for doping. Despite the cost to Sky – and criticism of the policy – Sutton is adamant they got it right.
"We strive for a clean sport," he says. "We have a zero tolerance policy within British Cycling, within Team Sky and we will endeavour to make this sport really appealing to any parent that wants their son or daughter to take it up.
"[Sky] have had a lot of stick. I think Dave took the right attitude. Yes, we were criticised and certain people lost their jobs unfortunately. But that's the way it is and the stance has to remain. We will come out of this a lot better than when we started."
Athlete Lab London is the only place to offer studio training on real bikes with the technology used to train Olympic athletes and a wealth of expertise on tap, including Team Sky legend Shane Sutton. Visit: www.athlete-lab.com
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