Olympic gold medallist Dani King has told Cyclingnews that she did not feel that there was a culture of fear at British Cycling while she raced on its track programme. British Cycling has been under the spotlight over the past year following several allegations of bullying and sexism.
Earlier this month, a leaked review into the practices of British Cycling gave a damning indictment of the body, citing a so-called 'culture of fear' and a 'dysfunctional leadership structure.' According to King, her personal experiences are not reflected in the allegations or report, and the only fear she felt was that another rider might take her place if she couldn't perform.
"I don't think that fear would be the right word," King told Cyclingnews in Bath at the unveiling of the city's Tour Series route. "Nobody was complacent at British Cycling. Nobody could sit back at British Cycling. There was a culture of working really hard. I wouldn't say that I was ever fearful at British Cycling.
"I think it was a good thing because it meant that everybody was giving 100 per cent in every session that they did because they felt like someone might take their spot."
King also reiterated her comments from last year that she had not endured any sexism, saying that former technical director Shane Sutton – who was accused by Jess Varnish of sexist remarks – was tough on both men and women.
"For me personally, I never experienced any sexism," explained King. "With the likes of Shane Sutton, for me, my opinion was that he was a hard taskmaster, but he was a hard taskmaster for both men and women. While I was there, I got all the support that I needed to become the best bike rider that I could be."
King competed on the British Cycling track programme for several years after making her World Championships debut in 2011. That year, she won her first rainbow stripes in the team pursuit and a bronze medal in the scratch race. She has since won two more world titles in the team pursuit, two European titles and claimed gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London in the same event with Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell-Shand.
The rising road
Having combined the track and the road in recent years, King gave up the track completely last season. She took a further step this season by moving from Wiggle-High5 to Cylance Pro Cycling in order to open up her leadership possibilities.
"I was very happy to be a domestique within Wiggle. I never questioned having to work for other people because ultimately it was my first year. I just felt like there were so many incredible riders on the team that it was time to change," said King. "It's an amazing team, and we've got a lot of cards to play. I'm really happy with how things have gone so far."
King kickstarted her season at the Santos Women's Tour, helping deliver teammate Kirsten Wild to two stage wins. Since returning to Europe, she's been clocking up the racing kilometres with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, where she finished 10th, Omloop van het Hageland and Strade Bianche. At the latter, King battled to 16th place after two crashes, one of which was in the final kilometres.
It is two places lower than she achieved at last year's race and was a chance blown, she feels, for a top 10 finish at WorldTour level. Having had a full season dedicated to road racing, King has higher expectations of herself but says that there is still plenty of room for improvement.
"I think I've got more expectation on myself now, wanting results instead of just hoping to get through the races, which is good and bad. I'm putting a lot more pressure on myself, but pressure is a good thing," said King.
"Obviously last year was my first full season on the road, and this year I feel with a full season under my belt that I am a lot stronger again, which is really nice. I'm excited about the progress that I've still got to make. I'm still learning so much while on the road, more from a tactical point of view."
King pinpoints the upcoming Ardennes Classics and the Women's Tour in June as big targets, as well as selection for the World Championships in Bergen. Following a two-week break from racing after Strade Bianche, King's programme will resume at the third round of the WorldTour, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
"It's one of the races of the year where it really suits me as a rider. It's hilly but not too hilly, but ultimately it comes down to a small bunch with a slightly uphill finish," she said. "You can have good and bad days, but hopefully I've done everything I can to give myself a good chance going onto that start line. We've got a good team, so hopefully it goes well.
"It's all about controlling the controllable, which is what we talked about during my time at British Cycling. You can't go into a race with a goal of a number in mind, it's all about performance. If I go into a race and I know that I've given 100 per cent and everything has gone my way then ultimately a good result is going to come out of that, and I can be happy with the result. Don't get me wrong, I go into every bike race wanting to win it but it's about being realistic as well. I'd be really happy to be on the podium of a UCI race this year."
While it's all for the road at the moment, King hints to Cyclingnews that there could be a track return next year.
"I'm just taking it one season at a time. This year I'm definitely focussing on the road and then Commonwealth Games. I could possibly do both and then we can go from there."