Monday, January 24, 2022
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The VV View: The Sutton Saga


The ‘Sutton Saga’ has me yet again scratching my head about cycle sport and this nation’s attitude towards it.

Great rides by Ben Swift and Steve Cummings get hardly a mention but Saturday’s Guardian sports section screams; “The Sutton Saga: 10 questions after a week of crisis.”

There’s one question missing though – ‘in a week’s time, who’ll give a rat’s backside?

Sutton Saga
Shane Sutton’s behaviour, character and effectiveness have all been discussed in detail this week.

Scandal and controversy are what the UK press want from cycling, they don’t really care about who wins what – unless it’s The Olympics or Le Tour.

The banter on a building site is infinitely more blood-curdling. I’m not going to repeat Sutton’s alleged remarks but they strike me as typical Aussie trackside banter/rough humour of which no one would even think twice about at the time – but isolate the words, put them under a magnifying glass in the cold light of day, entirely out of context, and they take on a different complexion.

Those who don’t understand that and are shocked/offended/mortified by them best not go near a construction site, comedy club or a cabin at a Six Day race – the banter there is infinitely more blood curdling.

If we’re outraged by a lady being referred to as a ‘Sheila’ then make sure you have smelling salts to hand when everything from your partner/lover’s sexual preferences to necrophilia are dealt with in graphic detail on the site/in the club/in the cabin.

A few years back Graeme Obree ‘came out’ as gay just before the Berlin Six Day, which we were working at – we had six days of none-too subtle remarks about ‘you Scots’ and what we get up to.

We played up to the chat and understood it’s just part of the rough banter you get when young men are thrust together and have time on their hands to fill.

We could, of course have been grossly offended and reported the riders’ behaviour to someone.

I can’t think who but maybe we should have written to The Guardian about that Alex Rasmussen character and the awful things he was saying to us.

It’s also a puzzle to me how events like Sutton’s fall from grace and Simon Yates’ misfortune are savoured by so-called ‘supporters’ of cycling rather than despaired upon as the PR disasters they are for our wonderful sport.

A sport which delivered a magnificent Classics season to us – albeit tinged with sadness at the loss of two young men in the prime of their lives.

Shane Sutton
Jess Varnish has fallen out of favour with some in British Cycling. Photo©Martin Williamson

The ‘Sutton Saga’ has also been used to give life to a number of those old chestnuts regarding ladies’ cycling.

Jess Varnish refers to herself as a ‘professional’ athlete.

I have to differ; if she was a real ‘professional’ she could shrug her shoulders at her dismissal, speak to her agent and see about getting a ride for another team.

She can’t do that – not least because it would be impossible for her to make a living as a truly professional female track cyclist – she’s actually a ‘state sponsored amateur.’

Just like those Poles and Russians who used to knock lumps out of everyone else in the Milk Race and Peace Race in the 70’s; it’s not commercial sponsors trying to sell frames/clothing/energy drinks to sportive riders whom athletes have to give account.

It’s Governments they’re riding for and rest assured that whilst national sports bodies may well make the PC noises about sexism, racism, disablism (yes, there’s such a word even though the spell check on my computer doesn’t think so) and all the other ‘isms’, all the ‘Feds’ are concerned about is national ‘honour,’ medals from Rio and continued funding.

Sutton Saga
Emma Pooley argues that Sky should have begun a women’s team at the same time as their men’s ProTour squad. Photo©the guardian

Then there’s ‘parity’ – at last count in men’s cycling there were;

  • 18 World Tour Teams
  • 23 Pro Continental Teams
    (three in the Americas, 19 in Europe and one in Oceania)
  • 143 Continental teams
    (one in Africa, 21 in the Americas, 25 in Asia, 92 in Europe and four in Oceania)

… giving a total of 184 teams.

There are currently 40 Ladies teams registered, that’s 22% of the number of men’s teams so to talk of ‘parity’ is nonsense.

Emma Pooley tells us that the award of Sir David Brailsford’s knighthood should have been looked at more closely because he didn’t set up a Sky ladies team.

Whatever you may think of the man, he promised a British Tour de France winner within five years and delivered.

There’s no ladies’ equivalent event and hasn’t been for a long time – and you best believe that if ASO thought they could make money from such a race then there would be one.

Sutton Saga
Peter Kennaugh during his Commonwealth Games break. Photo©Martin Williamson

As Pete Kennaugh said before he