Olympic keirin champion Victoria Pendleton has said she “had to stand up” for Jess Varnish, her partner in the team sprint at London 2012 who last month made allegations of sexism against Great Britain technical director Shane Sutton after she was dropped from the Olympic programme.
> Jess Varnish row rumbles on
Sutton subsequently resigned from the role he had been appointed to in 2014 after further claims emerged of bullying and discrimination against para-cyclists, prompting British Cycling to suspend him and an independent review of the organisation to be launched.
> Shane Sutton resigns from British Cycling
The Australian coach strenuously denies the specific allegations against him. Talking about Pendleton who has criticised his methods, he said he had at times "held her in my arms in the track centre when she has capitulated."
But the 35-year-old Pendleton, speaking yesterday at the launch of next month’s Laureus King Power Polo Cup, dismissed the Australian’s claims, reports The Times.
"Apparently he has held me in his arms many times. I can tell you Shane has never thrown his arms around me," she insisted.
"I have come off the track and maybe given the coaches a man-hug but holding me in his arms . . . firstly it would be wholly unprofessional and secondly I don’t recall it happening. I don’t know what that’s about.”
Among examples of the depth of support Sutton gave to riders in his care that were cited in the press as the scandal broke last month was a story of how he decorated Pendleton’s flat at 3am in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
"That was Shane on a good day,” Pendleton reflected. “My relationship with Shane was good before Beijing but notice he was talking about the lead-up to 2008. It would be interesting to ask how he was with me in the lead-up to London. That might be a different story
“It's all very well being supportive some of the time, but when you trust someone and they turn their back on you it's the most heart-breaking thing they can do. Shane can be a great bloke, but not all the time and it's a toss of the coin which side you get."
Pendleton and Varnish went into the team sprint at London four years ago with high hopes of securing gold, but were relegated to eighth place due to an illegal changeover.
The time they set would have qualified them for the final against China, who set a new world record in the first round, but would also be relegated in the gold medal race, won by Germany.
According to Pendleton, Varnish – the only Team GB female track cyclist not to secure a medal at London 2012 – fully deserves another chance at Rio this summer and in Tokyo in four years' time.
"“It breaks my heart. She could have been in the medals this time and definitely in 2020," she said.
"I think it's short-sighted and emotionally fuelled rather than strategic. She was fifth in the worlds and she is one of the top two female sprinters in the country.
"When he [Sutton] basically said she was lying I had to stand up for her. I love her. She is an honest, hard-working athlete," she added.
The independent review, which is being chaired by head of British Rowing Annamarie Phelps, is due to report in September.
> Annamarie Phelps to chair independent British Cycling review
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