Wiggins backs Sutton to return as Britain’s coach
Rio cycling success down to Australian, says rider Sport had a ‘culture of excellence, not bullying’
Sir Bradley Wiggins says that he fully expects Shane Sutton to be cleared of allegations of sexism and discrimination in British Cycling and that he would then “have the right” to return as coach.
Britain’s most decorated Olympian of all time said that Sutton, who resigned his post as technical director in April amid a flurry of accusations that he had bullied athletes and made discriminatory remarks towards Paralympic cyclists, was responsible for “a lot of ” the stunning success currently being enjoyed by British cyclists at the Olympic velodrome in Rio and that he would leap at the chance of a return.
The 59-year-old Sutton has denied all the claims and an independent review panel has been set up to investigate.
“Obviously Andy [Harrison] has taken over in the last couple of months and steadied the ship if you like,” said Wiggins, who won a fifth gold medal in the team pursuit on Friday night. “But I would say all this [Olympic success] is a result of [Sutton’s] work. He was in charge of it. He put all the foundations in place for this week, over years.
“He encouraged me to come back and I probably wouldn’t have come back had it been somebody else in charge 18 months ago.”
Wiggins said he knew that many of the British riders and coaches, including head coach Iain Dyer, had remained in regular communication with Sutton in the build-up to these Games. He even scrolled through his messages – past congratulatory texts from the likes of Paul Weller and Paul Smith – to read out a motivational message the Australian had sent him on Friday morning advising him “not to chase records, just chase the opposition”.
Wiggins said in his opinion there was a ‘culture of excellence’ within British Cycling rather than a ‘culture of bullying’, and that sometimes that called for blunt talking.
“I think so – when you’re dealing with the likes of myself or the Mark Cavendishes of this world,” he said. “What you’ll find, when you get into the position of winning the Tour de France, stages of the Tour, is that a lot of people within cycling will just admire you in some way,” he said.
“It’s hard not to. Then it’s hard to disagree with you and then they become ‘yes men’. Whereas Shane was never afraid to tell you what he thought or whether he thought you were f------ it up.”
Wiggins said that ultimately the litmus test for him was that he would be happy for his 10 year-old daughter to join the British Cycling programme.
“100 per cent,” he said. “This whole sexism thing, I’d never, ever seen any sign of that, really. If I’m completely honest I think there’s a lot of bitter people that didn’t make the grade, got the boot and they have now come out picking holes in things.”
Wiggins added that he thought Sutton would be cleared by the independent review panel, saying many of the allegations – such as the one made by former sprinter Jess Varnish that Sutton told her to “go and have a baby” – needed to be taken in context.
“I think he will be, yes,” he said. “I don’t see what evidence they can have, other than someone coming in and saying ‘he said this to me, he said that’. And I think the tone of how some things are said can be skewed quite a bit as well. For example, ‘why don’t you go off now, have a baby, start a family?’ is different to ‘go and have a f---ing baby’. That’s just an example. I’m not saying that that quote is right. [But] I know Shane better than anyone and I believe he’ll be cleared.”
Asked whether he should be reinstated if that happens, Wiggins said: “Well he wants to, he wants to come back. I spoke to him two weeks ago and he said his life is pretty empty without this. I think he has the right to. Why not?”
Wiggins, who admitted to having a few Caipirinhas on Friday night although nothing “crazy” like in Beijing in 2008, will fly back to the UK today. He said he wanted to take some time to reflect on his future.
He plans to ride in the Tour of Britain and a few Six Day events this autumn, finishing his career once and for all in Ghent, the Belgian city where he was born, alongside his old sparring partner, Mark Cavendish.
“My first childhood memories are in that building with my Dad and I rode the Ghent Six when I was 19,” he said. “It’ll be nice to end it there, yeah.”
After that he said he would continue to grow his Wiggins bike brand and his cycling team, making it the “best under-23 team in the world” with the intention of “finding the next Bradley Wiggins”. He also said there were plans to create an under-23 women’s team by 2018.
Mostly, though, he said he just wanted a rest. “Half-joking, half-serious, there is talk with Ed [Clancy] saying I should take over the pursuit team,” he smiled. “I might do my coaching badges at the end of the year but I don’t think I ever want to run this programme. Plus, Heiko [Salzwedel] has still got the job. I dunno...maybe a few years down the line.
“I’ve been reading Chris Boardman’s book this week, actually. He talked about retirement and had about two years where he just went SCUBA diving and just waited for something to come along. That’s more appealing to me at the moment. I’ll look forward to just doing those simple things other people take for granted and probably get bored with it after a while.”
In clear: Sir Bradley Wiggins is backing Shane Sutton