After 26 years with Cycling Australia as a national coach, Gary Sutton's time with the Federation will come to a close effective June 30. The announcement that Sutton will not have his contract renewed comes just over one month after he guided the women's endurance squad to silver in the team pursuit, silver in the individual pursuit, and bronze in the omnium at the Track World Championships.
Recently appointed high-performance director Simon Jones, who replaced the outgoing Kevin Tabotta, informed Sutton earlier in the week following the advertisement of the role on the eve of the Track Worlds.
"The day before the World Championships they advertised my job on social media, so it wasn’t good timing, especially for my athletes, but in saying that we all got through it pretty well," Sutton told Cyclingnews.
"It was probably the hardest week I have had in 25 years of coaching. To deal with that and work through it with the athletes, and quite a few of them were emotional. I think that also helped them as it motivated them. They could say 'we are doing it for Sutto' so my way of thinking was that it went the other way, but for me, it was one of the most unprofessional things I have seen done in 25 years to advertise. When you are at the biggest event of the year for our sport, and you see your job advertised the day before… It was very disappointing."
A training ride crash at last year's Rio Olympics put the Australian women's team on the back foot. They eventually finished outside the medals in fifth place in the team pursuit. Strong performances in the 2016-17 World Cup series continued in Hong Kong where the squad came within half a second of the win. However, post-Rio there have been several internal changes at Cycling Australia while track riders from both the men's and women's programmes have retired.
With a coaching palmares that features almost 100 rainbow jerseys and a personal career that brought a world points race title and Commonwealth Games medals, Sutton felt secure in his track record when it came to assessing the future of the women's endurance programme.
"I can only go off what the Germans have told me, that I have coached more world champions than any other coach in the world and I think it’s something like 90 I have been hands on with," he added. "I am not saying you rest on your laurels, but if you look at the last nine years, we have been in the team pursuit final six times. Four of the girls have been individual world champions in that time, so I think the record is pretty good. This year at the Worlds was a phenomenal effort, I thought, when you look at how close they went to winning the team pursuit against the USA.
"I knew I would be on the back foot. Simon made it pretty clear to me on the way home that there would be some major changes to the programme and I can’t really say much more than that. I’ll be honest, I am a bit gutted, but at the end of the day I have to move on and the one thing I do know is that I am leaving the programme in a very strong position. It’s just a shame I won’t be part of the journey in 2020."
While the results have brought joy to Sutton during his time with CA, he explained the personal development of his riders is equally important.
"The results are one thing. I have always been proud of all the athletes and their commitment to the programme and training but to see them develop into very good people has been a real bonus for me. They have all turned out wonderful people and human beings. Results wise, there are a lot of great memories, and I would have to say when they won the team pursuit in 2010, and Paris 2015, were highlights. Bec Wiasak’s win in the individual pursuit was an incredible moment for me as well."
Rather than dwelling on the dismissal, Sutton is already a man in demand with interest from four countries in securing his services and helping the New South Welshman to reach 100 rainbow jerseys.
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