British Cycling head coach Shane Sutton has dismissed the idea that performance director Dave Brailsford is to blame for the British team's low-key showing at the track world championships in Cali, Colombia last week.
Prior to the Worlds, which he did not attend, Brailsford said that he was considering scaling back his involvement with British Cycling in order to focus on his other position as manager of Team Sky.
Chris Boardman said earlier this week that the time has come for Brailsford to choose between his Sky and British Cycling roles, but Sutton insisted that Britain’s failure to land any men’s medals in Cali was not linked to Brailsford's absence.
"The buck stops with me and I'm big enough to take it," Sutton said, according to The Times. “Dave has been the greatest leader for GB going back to Clive Woodward and the Rugby World Cup. Dave’s not here. The accountability of these performances rest totally with me, not Dave.”
Sutton previously combined his work as Britain’s head coach with an equivalent role at Team Sky. He stepped down from that position in January of last year, although he remains a consultant for the WorldTour team. The Australian pointed out that Brailsford's absence from the 2013 Worlds in Minsk, where Britain claimed five gold medals, had not drawn the same level of attention.
"We weren't having this conversation twelve months ago when Dave wasn't there. For people to start pointing the finger at him is unfounded," Sutton said. "I, as head coach, need to accept responsibility for that. I think any criticism of Dave would be unfounded. This guy's been the greatest leader in British sport history. His legacy will go on and on."
Boardman, who left his role as British Cycling’s head of research and development after the London 2012 Olympics, told Press Association Sport that the track programme "needs a boss."
"Dave would clearly be the best full-time boss, but if he's not going to do that, it might be better if somebody else comes in and takes the reins," he said, adding that Sutton was not necessarily the man to do so. "Shane is great, a good second in command, but perhaps not the person to be the big boss."
After topping the medals table at the London 2012 Olympics and again at the Minsk Worlds twelve months ago, Great Britain could only manage fourth in the table in Cali.
Britain's only rainbow jerseys came in the women's team and individual pursuits (Joanna Roswell). The women's team claimed three further medals, but their male counterparts surprisingly returned home from Colombia empty-handed.
"What they did over that break at Christmas has come back to haunt them. They need to look at themselves," Sutton told The Times. "They got it wrong; they went out over the festive season and came back and shouldn't have been where they were.
"I'm not saying they went out on the p***; what I'm saying is, there are younger guys in the Aussie team that are performing better, riding the times we had been previously. Everybody's got to stop making excuses and understand where we are and make it right, but if we don't learn from it, we can't make it right."
Sutton was particularly critical of the team pursuit squad, although he absolved Ed Clancy from blame. "Ed is special. I don't think the other boys have got the talent if I was totally honest," said Sutton, who is keeping the door open to the prospect of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish joining the team pursuit squad for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
"I've always said, if you define greatness, you look at Mark Cavendish and you look at Brad Wiggins. If anyone can do this, they could do it. Cav's pedigree on the track is phenomenal and Brad's record speaks for itself," he said.