Wendy Houvenaghel accuses British Cycling of 'ageism' and a 'win-at-all-cost' culture

Former rider says she can empathise with Varnish

Former track cyclist, Wendy Houvenaghel has accused British Cycling of 'ageism' and said she was 'frozen out' of opportunities in the build-up to the 2012 Olympic Games despite being one of their top performers at the time. In an interview with the BBC, Houvenaghel also said that British Cycling adopted a 'win at any cost' culture and showed no concern for her welfare when she was dropped from the squad.

Previously a dentist, Houvenaghel came to cycling in 2002, and following a series of time trial titles she took her first track title in 2005. Her first world title came in the team pursuit in 2008, and she was part of the three-woman team until the 2011 World Championships, where she won her final world title. She rode the individual pursuit in the 2012 Worlds but was not selected for the team pursuit.

"Zero regard, they didn't care for what happened to me afterwards," Houvenaghel told the BBC. "For me, I felt that it was ageism. I was a little bit older than my teammates, and it didn't seem like it was something that the staff wanted for 2012.

"It was really in January of 2012 that I really felt like I was being thrown out of the team. That was my own experience. After six years of constantly medalling, on the track on the road, they discarded me in a very undignified way.

"I don't think that the fastest team on the day was permitted to race… It definitely wasn't about performance because we'd already proved in the week before and in the lead-up to the competition that I was performing very well, and there was no reason not to include all four members in the actual racing."

British Cycling has been under the spotlight since April 2016 after Jess Varnish made allegations of sexism against the then technical director Shane Sutton. An internal investigation was launched as well as an external, independent one. The internal investigation upheld Varnish's allegations, but only on one count – which was later criticised by the external investigation. Houvenaghel says that Varnish's comment rang true with her and that she had regularly heard Sutton refer to female athletes as 'bitches'.

"I could understand where she was coming from, and I felt really upset for her that she was going through a similar situation to what I went through four years before," said Houvenaghel. "He collectively referred to the women as bitches, routinely. I feel that was unprofessional and unnecessary."

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Houvenaghel said that she also identified with many of the issues highlighted in a report on British Cycling that was leaked earlier this month. The report claimed that there was a 'culture of fear' and a 'dysfunctional leadership.'

"I'm pleasantly surprised that the report that has come out appears to be quite an accurate report," she said. "Obviously, a lot of work has gone into the research and talking to the many people in order to produce the report. Obviously, the full report is not in the public domain. This is just a leaked report, but so far it seems to be quite accurate."

While Houvenaghel agrees with much of what was in the report, she also understands that some riders may not get the same feeling. Last week, Houvenagel's former teammate Dani King told Cyclingnews that she had never felt a sense of fear or that she had been on the receiving end of any sexism.

"Perhaps not from all rider's perspectives," Houvenaghel said when asked if she felt that the win at all costs was indicative of British Cycling's approach. "There are certain chosen riders within the team that would not have felt the culture of fear and would not have been on the receiving end of that, the bullying, the harassment and being frozen out of opportunities.

"They don't really understand, and it's probably quite baffling for them to hear the accounts of other people in the same team. They may not have been aware of that oppression going on."

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