Shane Sutton has moved to steady the Great Britain ship at the UCI Track World Championships after the men's and women's sprint teams not only disappointed on Day 1, but have criticised the team's management publicly.
The women's sprint team of Jessica Varnish and Katy Marchant needed to beat the French by two clear spots in their sprint heats but failed, and in doing so lost their chance of riding in the Olympic Games. They salvaged some pride by setting a personal best but Varnish later told the press that "we have been basically playing catch up through bad decisions and bad luck."
The men's sprint of Jason Kenny, Callum Skinner and Philip Hindes finished sixth in their heats and missed out on a place in Day 2's finals. Kenny had given an interview to the Telegraph on the eve of the Championships in which he openly criticised the team's coaching and management. On a day that saw the pursuit team qualify fastest in their heat all the headlines in London were of a split in the Great Britain camp, and Sutton quelling talk of a crisis within the sprint camp.
After a lengthy meeting with the women's team at their hotel, Sutton met with Cyclingnews during the evening session and told the site that, "There's definitely not a crisis. At the end of the day this is sport and they need to start enjoying it, embracing the fact that they're representing their country at the highest level. I think if we can get the smiles back on their faces and the preparation goes well over the next five months then we'll be very competitive."
He pointed to the women's sprint performance and highlighted that although the team had missed out on Rio they were moving in the right direction. However he added that the riders and the squad as a whole needed to take responsibility.
"I thought that it was a brilliant performance to run fifth in the Worlds and it shows how far that they've come. It's a journey, one for Olympic qualification and collectively they've failed to qualify. So they need to take responsibility. If you look at the support system around them through UK Sport, the lottery, that service is the best in the world. However, unfortunately, and collectively, they've failed as a group and they've not made it. I can only praise their efforts on the day," he told Cyclingnews.
Varnish, a veteran of the 2012 London Games, is one of the most established members within the Great Britain team and her comments would have certainly stung. However the fact remains that she is not riding in the form she had several seasons ago, Sutton pointed out.
"A lot of people have asked that but only Jess can answer that. We have seen signs of her coming back to her best and she needs to take that now into the rest of the tournament. It is what it is and today she's been the best she's been in quite some time."
"She just needs to look in the mirror and take responsibility. We all work to a core philosophy and everyone is committed. Riders need to take ownership and responsibility. Over the journey they've not been excellent and the general public will see it as a failure that they've failed to qualify but actually it was a great performance."
"Personally I don't think she's directing it at me. I think she's directing it at the group. I think that she would have wanted a different line-up but ultimately sit these people down and they choose their pathway to arrive in the best possible chase. If you go back to it they missed their chance in New Zealand to do a top performance through a disqualification. How that came about doesn't matter anymore. They've not qualified and people need to take responsibility for not qualifying. As I said to them earlier at the hotel, be happy with how you performed in front of your home crowd. You ran fifth, now you just have to move on."
Kenny's comments to the Telegraph were more graphic. When asked about one particular event in which Sutton criticised him, Kenny told the newspaper that, "Shane says that all the time. And usually when he says that I just think 'Shut the **** up!' You know what I mean? We are here because we want to be here. We want to win. And it hurts us enough losing without having someone barking at us."
Sutton looked to calm the situation, reverting back to the performance, but he could not hide his feelings on what Kenny had said.
"Jason at the end of the day can say what he wants. Everyone has a choice to say what they want when they sit down with the press. Jason was quite critical over my comments in Colombia. I believe that my comments were valid, that we needed to change and that we needed freshen up and look at peoples' hunger. For him to come out like he did and react the way he did, I was surprised given that he's an ambassador for the team. I was disappointed," he told Cyclingnews.
"Saying that, life is about choices and he's chosen to say that. I didn't like the rest of the comments regarding the coaches who were there 24-7. That really knocked our coaches or six and going into an major competition it probably wasn't a good idea."
"The men were solid today. The best performer in London since GB has been Hindes. The boys behind him need to step up. They've run sixth but if we get that right we can change that around for Rio and get a result."
No longer invincible
All the talk over cracks appearing within the team, strained relationships and the outburst in the media all stem from the fact that the sprint teams have been unsuccessful for a number of seasons. The old guard have moved on and even those that rode with the likes of Hoy and Pendleton have lost their form.
Asked if today's comments had undermined him, Sutton said: "Not at all. I've just had an hour and half with the girls and the decisions that we make are made collectively. The teams that we put out are the best available to us at the time, and if Jess reflects on her comments she'll see that we've used the best available riders to us at the time.
"Underperformance brings that type of emotion. As we know the sprint group haven't performed over the last couple of years and therefore they're going to running high on emotion. They're going to vent their anger as they wish to do so but ultimately they need to take responsibility."
Whatever the true nature of the team behind the scenes Sutton cannot dispute that the air of invincibility within the British sprint teams has well and truly vanished.
"Definitely. We're coming back to a venue where we were invincible. Also there's a lot of pressure on the riders to come back here and perform. Invincibility goes in cycles and we don't have the Hoys and Pendletons. We do have a great crop here and they are developing. We are definitely not invincible at the moment."
Invincibility will not return by the end of these championships but perhaps we will get a sense of whether the team will fight for each other or fight themselves.
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