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Britain’s Cycling Super-Heroes; the Price of Success – BBC2 19 November 2017

BBC2’s investigation didn’t teach us very much. Sir Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton were unrepentant; two men obsessed with winning won a lot. And if some bodies fell along the way and a few people got upset, well it was a price worth paying. Why no interview with Jess Varnish? Sutton denied telling her to go have a baby but admitted to telling her to ‘lose some timber.’ Emma Pooley complained about the regime but neither Laura Trott or Victoria Pendleton or any of the other fine lady cyclists were interviewed or contributed: why not? paralympian complained about them being called ‘gimps.’ Disgraceful if true: Sutton denied it but why could they only find one Paralympian to complain about him? David Millar waxed lyrical about Sky’s shortcomings and the cortico-steroid for Wiggins. ‘It’s better than EPO,’ he said. Well, he should know. Millar, a convicted doper, is now the go-to rent-a-quote and sits in judgement on others; you couldn’t, as they say, make it up. Here’s the thing. I used to run a business and I was a hard task-master. I expected loyalty and unremitting hard work, I didn’t tolerate slackers or people who weren’t prepared to put in 100% effort. However, I was never (intentionally) rude and I don’t believe I bullied people, although you may find people who felt otherwise. I accept that there are other ways of managing and there may well be better ways; but it was my way and I was well-paid to achieve results. Similarly (not that I would compare myself…) Brailsford’s regime at British Cycling/Sky was brutal and tough; it got results but sometimes it probably went too far and changes needed to be made. However, we must be careful about throwing out the baby with the bath-water. For me, the worst moment was when Sutton spoke about Wiggins’ TUE. He said that if an athlete was at 95% and a TUE could get them to 100%, then he’d do it. He implied (or I inferred) that he’d do that, even if the athlete wasn’t really ill. Brailsford (the better politician) added the caveat that the athlete needed to be ill. There, perfectly encapsulated, was the difference between Brailsford and Sutton, and the reason that Brailsford is still in his job and Sutton is out of his. The jiffy bag issue remains a mess. UKAD can’t prove anyone guilty and won’t declare anyone innocent. Dr Freeman is too ill to tell anyone what was in the bag (he must be pretty ill) and still says that the dog ate his homework, or his lap-top was stolen, or something. Brailsford says he was told it was fluimicil and Wiggins isn’t saying; he plans to become a rower. Chris Froome wasn’t interviewed. Barring accidents or injury, he should win at least one more Tour, in Sky colours. And British cycling success at the 2020 Olympics? Time will tell.    

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