Toxic culture hurt ex-cyclist's hopes

LONDON • Victoria Pendleton has claimed she would have performed better at the London Olympics, where she won silver and gold medals, and could now be heading to compete in Rio if it was not for the corrosive culture at British Cycling that forced her to quit.

The former track cyclist, who successfully switched to jump racing in an experiment backed by a leading bookmaker, has been outspoken in her support for dropped cyclist Jess Varnish following her criticism of Shane Sutton, the former performance director.

Pendleton confirmed that the way she was treated by Sutton and the culture at British Cycling had played "a big part" in her decision to retire.

"I couldn't stay working with those people," she said. "If, four years ago, they'd made the changes that they've made now, I would've been a lot happier and probably would've performed better."

After Varnish was dropped from the high performance programme, she said Sutton had made sexist comments and treated her badly.

Paralympic cyclists then also made allegations against him, saying he had called them "gimps" and "wobblies", forcing him to resign.

The 35-year-old said she had put her name forward to contribute to the wide-ranging review being conducted into British Cycling's culture in the wake of Sutton's departure but believed it should report before the Rio Olympics rather than after.

"Things could be done sooner, especially in an Olympic cycle," said Pendleton, who was speaking at the BBC's launch of its Olympic coverage and will travel to Rio as a pundit for the broadcaster.

"It's not something you really want to leave continuing the way it is. Changes should be made and people should be able to just move on, in my opinion," she added.

But Pendleton said she had faith in the process and the review headed by the British Rowing chair, Annamarie Phelps. It was announced this week that the panel would include the former England rugby union coach Stuart Lancaster.

"It was never going to happen at an earlier stage, unfortunately. And, when you're in the team, you keep your head down and you do what you're told because you want to be part of it. It doesn't mean it's right," said Pendleton.

"It was going to happen sometime. It would be naive to think that it wasn't ever going to come out."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline 'Toxic culture hurt ex-cyclist's hopes'. Print Edition | Subscribe