The run up to the Rio Olympics couldn’t really have gone worse as far as British Cycling was concerned. In May, Jess Varnish made a series of explosive allegations in the media after she was dropped and (as she saw it) denied a chance to compete – allegations which divided opinion and threw any semblance of team unity into disarray.
Her principal claim, that Australian-born technical director Shane Sutton presided over a culture of sexism and intolerance, was swiftly backed up by several current and former members of the team, including cycling superstar Victoria Pendleton and her boyfriend, BMX medal hopeful Liam Phillips. But there were heavy hitters weighing in on the other side to deny it too, with Sir Bradley Wiggins a notable Sutton supporter.
Sutton eventually resigned, still denying the accusations, his guilt or innocence to be decided by an upcoming enquiry. But the episode left a lingering suspicion that something wasn’t right. As if that wasn’t enough, just weeks out from the games it was revealed that road cyclist Lizzie Armitstead had missed multiple doping tests. Her appeal against a possible ban was granted but the incident cast a further shadow over British Cycling’s squeaky clean image.
“It looked like the wheels might finally be falling off this well-oiled medal machine.”