British track sprinter Jess Varnish will not appeal against her non-selection for the Rio Olympics but launched a fierce criticism of British Cycling yesterday.
Varnish’s contract with British Cycling was not renewed in March, shortly after she and Kelly Marchant failed to seal an Olympic spot for the women’s team sprint at the world championships in London.
The fall-out from that decision led to the eventual resignation of British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton over alleged discriminatory remarks made to Varnish. Varnish said appealing against British Cycling’s decision would be a pointless process.
“It’s pretty plain to see that selectors discretion would not be in my favour,” the 25-year-old said in a statement.
“It’s sad that an organisation that once prided itself on fact and data, now pick and choose riders on discretion. I know I’m not the only rider to feel like this.”
British Cycling named its 26-rider squad for Rio last Friday, offering riders who were no longer receiving funding the chance to appeal in the same way as funded riders. “No reason for my non-selection was given,” Varnish said, referring to new team manager Andy Harrison.
“He did provide me with the appeals procedure and 48 hours in which to reply. It is heavily weighted in favour of British Cycling, puts significant financial risk on the athlete, and ultimately comes down to selectors’ discretion.”
“With no access to a bike or track, I decided to stop training for Rio and move on with my life. I will therefore not be appealing my non-selection,” she added.
Varnish said she had received offers from professional Cycling teams and hoped to compete for Britain again.
British Cycling, under instruction from UK Sport, has launched an Independent Review into its World Class Programme following the controversy surrounding Sutton’s departure.
Varnish hits out at ‘culture of fear’ inside British Cycling. In the aftermath of that disappointment, the 25-year-old from Bromsgrove was highly critical of British Cycling’s selections over the two-year qualifying period and, when her contract was not renewed a month later, she further criticised the programme, ultimately resulting in the departure of Shane Sutton as technical director. British Cycling confirmed its 26-strong team for Rio last week and said disappointed riders who were not receiving funding would be allowed to go through the same appeals process as funded riders. This was clearly an olive branch to the likes of Varnish but one she has rejected.
“I’ve shared this procedure with a legal expert and the British Athletes Commission, and I’m sad to report that it isn’t new,” Varnish said.
“Nothing has changed to the other appeals procedures I’ve been through. It is heavily weighted in favour of British Cycling, puts significant financial risk on the athlete and ultimately comes down to selectors’
Varnish spent much of May training in Australia, at her own expense, in an attempt to convince British Cycling that she was worth one of the two individual sprint places Great Britain had earned for Rio. But last week’s confirmation that those places have gone to Marchant and Becky James has settled Varnish’s immediate future.
Having recently completed exams to be a personal trainer and working towards a pilates instructor qualification, she is hoping to study sports nutrition at Manchester Metropolitan University. Despite winning several medals for her country, Varnish has missed out on gold at the biggest events, with the most memorable disappointment coming at London 2012 when she teamed up with Victoria Pendleton to set a world record in the opening round of the team sprint only for the pair to be disqualified.
But she has not given up her hope of continuing as a professional athlete. “I will compete for Great Britain again, I’m not too old, I have the desire to win and I’ll be back,” she said.
“In the meantime, I wish all those travelling to Rio to represent Team GB the best of luck; embrace the opportunity, the Olympic Games is a very special experience.”
News of Varnish’s decision to give up on Rio came fractionally before UK Sport, the agency that allocates public money to elite sport, announced the final member of the panel it has set up to investigate the claims Varnish and others made about a culture of bullying at British Cycling.
Jude Kelly, the artistic director of the Southbank Centre, will join British Rowing’s chair Annamarie Phelps, former England rugby union coach Stuart Lancaster, sports lawyer John Mehrzad and ex-GB hockey player Annie Panter on the independent review panel. Its report is expected after the Rio Olympics.
In response to Varnish’s call for trials – effectively a race-off – to settle Olympic selection, a British Cycling spokesman said: the current rules had been agreed with the British Olympic Association and the British Paralympic Association, and they have been on the governing body’s website for more than a year. “We are funded to deliver medals so we have a duty to deliver on that public investment and we make selection decisions in line with that duty,” the spokesman added.
“We are also firm in our belief that we have a duty to be fair to the riders who have made the team under the published selection procedure.”
Harrison added: “Selecting the right combination of people for a team is always difficult as anyone involved in elite performance in any sport will testify. “Data and judgment have always played a part in the British Cycling selection process and, having achieved a degree of success with that process, we are happy to stand by it.
“Equally, every athlete in every sport who has not made selection for Rio is entitled to feel disappointed and I wish Jess well in the future.”
Relaxed Degenkolb gets over crash nightmare
John Degenkolb said he was feeling relaxed as the German prepared to tackle the Tour de France just five months after a horror crash that could have ended his life, let alone his career.
The 27-year-old was one of six Giant-Alpecin riders involved in a head-on crash with a car while training in Spain in January.
Degenkolb suffered injuries to his thighs, forearm and lips, while he came close to losing a finger.
He missed the whole of the Spring Classics season, denying him the opportunity to defend the prestigious Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo titles he’d won in 2015.
But after making his return to racing last month, the German one-day specialist is raring to go.
“Happiness is really a very important expression when it comes to (how he’s feeling) because the accident was huge and I had to do the biggest break of my career, and rehabilitation,” said Degenkolb from the Giant team hotel in Normandy.
“I was never injured like that. I think I was two or three weeks in hospital, that’s a pretty hard time — that was the hardest part, when you don’t know what’s going on, what’s the schedule, when you’ll be back on track, when you’ll train again, when you’ll race again.
“We said we wanted to try to make it to the Tour de France, now finally I’m in the selection — it’s a great feeling! The plan worked out, I’m very happy about that.”
It hasn’t been easy to overcome the scars from his crash — his left forearm retains a huge, pink, jagged reminder of the accident — but Degenkolb says he’s coped with it.
“I remember everything from the accident basically but... I’m just over it, I have no problems with it any more. For me it’s the past and now I can concentrate on what’s coming in the future.”
But given his lack of racing this year, Degenkolb, who is also an able sprinter, insists there is less pressure on him in this year’s race, where Giant also have high hopes in the overall standings for young Frenchman Warren Barguil.
Degenkolb will be expected only to challenge for stage victories on lumpy sprint stages that suit him more than the faster out-and-out sprinters such as former team-mate Marcel Kittel.
“I didn’t lose my mentality, it changed a bit my perspective of how I looked on things in life,” he said of his crash.
“I think I’m just a bit more relaxed, I’m enjoying more what I’m doing because it’s a big privilege to be a professional cyclist and I have the right to ride the Tour de France.
“Before they put me in this role and I have to do it, (but) now I’m just trying to enjoy it more — I am enjoying it, it’s really nice and I’m looking forward to it.”
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