Success on both the road and track has not stopped British Cycling's golden standard being tarnished in 2016

Success on both the road and track has not stopped British Cycling's golden standard being tarnished in 2016

Chris Froome's triumph at the Tour de France and the impressive performance of Great Britain's cyclists at Rio 2016 has been masked by controversy after controversy at British Cycling.

adam-bailey
Adam Bailey

From Chris Froome's third Tour de France title to the impressive medal haul on the track in Rio, British Cycling has been the gold standard of British Sport on the track and road in 2016.

But the sporting success of Great Britain's cyclists has been masked by controversy after controversy in a turbulent year for the governing body of the country's most successful sport.

One drugs test was failed, several were missed; there were accusations of bullying, sexism and discrimination; several investigations, bitter recriminations; and finally, two major resignations; technical director Shane Sutton and chief executive Ian Drake.

2016 should be a year that British Cycling look back on with pride and delight, but instead it is a year that has seen their golden standard tarnished despite the many triumphs on both the track and road.

Rio success shone through dark clouds that loomed over British Cycling

With an unprecedented medal haul at the last two Olympic Games, the Great Britain cycling team set their personal bar so high it was almost unthinkable that they could sustain the same level of success in Rio this summer. Team GB dominated track cycling in Rio; winning six of 10 disciplines and collecting 11 medals in total, nine more than the Netherlands and Germany in joint second.

Britain's track success came as dark clouds loomed over British Cycling. In April, less than 100 days before the beginning of the Olympic Games, British Cycling technical director, Shane Sutton, resigned from his position after allegations of sexism, bullying and discriminatory remarks about members of the British Olympic and Paralympic squad.

This was certainly not ideal with less than 100 days to go until the Olympics began, but in terms of racing, all the plans and hard work for the final months leading up to Rio were already in place. Continuity was ensured by the coaches still employed at British Cycling and the cyclists could focus on Rio. Having said that, the allegations put the spotlight on Great Britain's medal factory like never before as tensions came close to reaching breaking point.

This would be a controversy that would be ongoing throughout 2016 and even at the end of the year it is still rumbling on. In late October, the British Cycling board upheld the allegation that Sutton "used inappropriate and discriminatory language" towards former British Cycling team member Jess Varnish. However, it later emerged - through a leaked report - that only one of the nine charges she made against Sutton was upheld.

Even by British Cycling's standards, contriving to upset Jess Varnish and Shane Sutton in an internal review designed to find the inner truth of their dispute – while also generating more fears about its lack of openness and transparency – is certainly not a good look. After a tumultuous year, British Cycling will have been pleased to see the turn of the year, but because of their lack of openness, this saga will now likely continue into 2017 and British Cycling could now find itself at the centre of a bitter legal dispute as both Sutton and Varnish are likely to contest the findings.

British Cycling have not only set the standard and been the exemplar for other national organisations within Great Britain over recent years, but even other countries have started to develop a similar model to what has brought British Cycling so much success over recent years. But as 2016 draws to a close, it must be British Cycling who look at themselves as an organisation and improve after what can only be described as a tumultuous year away from the road and track.

One failed drugs test and several missed tests

The Sutton debacle was followed by the dramatic news that the world champion Lizzie Deignan (nee Armitstead) had come close to missing the Olympic Games after registering three “strikes” on the Anti-Doping Administration & Management System that monitors cyclist’s whereabouts for random testing. Deignan was cleared when the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the first “strike” was not valid as doping control officers had not made proper attempts to contact her, but it made for an embarrassing run-in to the Olympic Games.

The saga clearly took an emotional toll on the Yorkshire woman, although we may never know whether it affected her Olympic performance. Deignan would have no doubt liked to have won a medal, as every athlete would, but she can certainly be pleased with her fifth-place finish on a tough course in difficult conditions, and on another day, she might have come away with a medal.

The Armistead news came just a few months after British cyclist Simon Yates was banned for four months for a failed drugs test in April. This news came in the same week that the allegations were made against Sutton and it came as a hammer blow; plunging British Cycling into further crisis. His team, Orica-GreenEdge, blamed an "administrative error" over the use of an asthma inhaler and the team said they took "full responsibility for the mistake" and there was "no wrongdoing" by Yates.

Sir Bradley Wiggins, who criticised Deignan for her missed test, was embroiled in another drugs storm when it emerged that he missed a drugs test just three months before the Rio Olympics. Wiggins went onto become the first Briton to win eight Olympic medals with victory in the team pursuit in Rio 2016 and his missed test left Wiggins open to accusations of hypocrisy given his scathing criticism of Deignan.

Wiggins also had to defend his use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) after hackers calling themselves 'The Fancy Bears' leaked details of athletes'  TUEs. Wiggins and Team Sky came under intense scrutiny after a former team doctor of Wiggins questioned the decision to allow him to use a banned steroid just days before major races. It threatened to taint the legacy of Britain's most decorated Olympian and raised questions of Team Sky's zero-tolerance stance and how far they are willing to push the lines over performance-enhancing drugs.

Another Tour de France triumph for Froome as Team Sky faced increased scrutiny

When Team Sky began their first season of racing in 2010, their initial aim was to create the first British winner of the Tour de France within five years. Six years later in 2016, Team Sky won their fourth yellow jersey and Chris Froome's third Tour de France title in four years. Froome secured yet another yellow jersey with an incredible performance to cement his name in cycling folklore and the image of Froome running up Mont Ventoux will be remembered for a long time.

However, Team Sky have faced increased scrutiny in 2016. The British team's boss Sir Dave Brailsford came under heavy and sustained pressure after revelations about a mystery medical package delivered to Sir Bradley Wiggins in France in 2011 while he was riding for Team Sky. Brailsford finally revealed to a parliamentary committee that the infamous Jiffy bag contained a mere decongestant, but plenty of questions remain and the reputation of both his team and the sport's governing body has taken a battering. 

What does the future hold for British Cycling?

There is no doubt that the future of British Cycling is very bright on the road and track. On the road, Chris Froome is the best Grand Tour rider of his generation, while Mark Cavendish needs just four more Tour de France stage wins to draw level with Eddy Merckx and with nine potential sprint stages for the taking in 2017; history could be made next July.

Adam Yates showed his Grand Tour potential at this year's Tour de France; finishing fourth in the overall classification and becoming the first ever British winner of the Tour’s white jersey. Team Sky have added young British talents Owain Doull, Jon Dibben and Tao Geoghegan Hart so it will be interesting to see how their careers progress.

On the track, it was almost unthinkable that Great Britain could repeat the same level of success on the track in Rio 2016 as London 2012, especially considering there would be no six-time gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy or double gold medallist Victoria Pendleton. This Olympic cycle has seen Team GB's next generation of cyclists breaking onto the international stage, including Owain Doull, Callum SkinnerKatie Archibald and Katy Merchant, all impressing in their maiden Olympic Games, showing the future remains bright for British Cycling and there is no reason why Britain cannot repeat their success in Tokyo in four years time.

Away from the road and track, British Cycling must learn from what has been a tumultuous year. Both British Cycling and Team Sky need to be more open and transparent, especially after the events of 2016, which has decreased the credibility of the two organisations and tarnished their golden standard. 2017 looks set to be the beginning of a new era for British Cycling behind-the-scenes; a new chief executive is set to be appointed with Ian Drake leaving the post in the spring, while Stephen Park, who has been the Royal Yachting Association’s Olympic manager for the past fifteen years, has been appointed performance director.

Their main challenge will be to ensure that British Cycling's success on both the road and track is not tarnished because of other shortcomings in the future. A bigger task than some might think.

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