PA Sport

Amid British Cycling crisis women's cycling in UK on the up, says leading team

Amid British Cycling crisis women's cycling in UK on the up, says leading team
By PA Sport

20/03/2017 at 22:42

The headlines might suggest otherwise, but Britain's top professional team believe women's cycling in the UK has never been stronger.

The headlines might suggest otherwise, but Britain's top professional team believe women's cycling in the UK has never been stronger.

The riders and staff of Wiggle High5, ranked second in the world, have read all about the crisis engulfing British Cycling's elite programmes since Jess Varnish accused former performance director Shane Sutton of sexist remarks when she was dropped from the team.

Sutton was forced to resign ahead of last year's Olympics while a leaked draft report from an investigation - led by British Rowing chair Annamarie Phelps - into what went on delivered a damning indictment of "dysfunctional" and "inept" leadership overseeing a programme in which a "culture of fear" exists, and bullying and sexism are tolerated.

Wiggle High5's British sisters Lucy and Grace Garner were not part of the same programme as Varnish and said they had never experienced anything similar, and said the draft report does not reflect the overall health of women's cycling in the country.

"I've grown up with British Cycling," former double junior world champion Lucy Garner told Press Association Sport. "They've taken me all over the world and brought me on leaps and bounds. I'm a bit younger than Jess so I don't know all of what's been going on.

"Reading about it, listening to it, it's all over the news and it's not great, it's not nice to read about. But I try to focus on the positives because women's cycling is on the up and I hope the real fans can see that."

The team's Australian owner, former Commonwealth champion Rochelle Gilmore, knows Sutton from when Joanna Roswell Shand and Laura Trott were on her team, and has previously said she found it difficult to reconcile the allegations with her own experience of working with him.

However, she supports Varnish's right to speak out and said she hoped it can be a turning point for the sport.

"Having an athlete talk about the way she feels she's been treated and her way of life within a team is a really good wake-up call for a lot of the staff within women's cycling to be more conscious about the way they deal with their athletes and the way they make them feel," she said. "It can be life-affecting."

Gilmore has looked at her own team's practices as the British Cycling story unfolds, but is confident they have very different systems in place.

" We've always had a culture within our team that quality of life is the priority above winning, absolutely. I need to take that pressure away from the athletes in order for them to feel relaxed and happy," she said.

"Our team is not controlling, not dictating, not creating a culture of fear... If we create a really nice environment that people want to be in then the results will follow."

Despite what has snowballed into a crisis within the national governing body, Wiggle High5 believe Britain is at the forefront of the rapid development of women's cycling.

Britain is home to three major women's races - the Aviva Women's Tour and Prudential RideLondon (both part of the fledgling Women's WorldTour) and the Tour de Yorkshire - and all three have helped push the boundaries for the sport.

Last year, the Yorkshire race announced what was then a world record £50,000 prize fund for its women's race, before RideLondon went a step further with a £78,600 kitty - helping attract a world-class field and additional coverage.

The five-day Women's Tour, meanwhile, leads the way for crowd participation in a stand-alone event which is not linked to a men's race.

Where continental Europe, with its rich cycling traditions, might be slower to embrace women's cycling, Britain has taken the lead.

"They are more innovative and open to trying something new," said Gilmore, who created the team and chose to register it in Britain after seeing the response to the women's road race at the London Olympics.

"They see the opportunity and take it. In Britain they've got the TV coverage and the prize money sorted right from the start. The UK has set the standard."

Grace Garner, 19, watched the inaugural editions of the Women's Tour as a fan before getting her first chance to ride it last year with the now defunct Podium Ambition team.

"To see the level where it started to where it is now, being in the WorldTour, is just amazing to see," she said. "Over the past three years it's really rocketed."

The Women's Tour should take another leap forward in 2017 with its first visit to London, for the concluding stage, on June 11.

The younger Garner sister believes a finish on Regent Street could one day attain the same status for women's cycling as the traditional finish of the Tour de France holds in men's cycling.

"This could be our Champs-Elysees," she said.

Before then there will no doubt be more difficult reading, not least when the final version of the report from Phelps' investigation is published, but Lucy Garner expects the sport to emerge stronger.

"It's a shame these are the headlines because there is so much going on that people want to read about," she said.

"I think the sport is strong enough to get past this and I believe that it's still growing...I think it will come out in a better place."

:: Number one international cycle retailer wiggle.co.uk is the proud sponsor of Wiggle High5 women's pro cycling team.

0
0