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We operated in a culture of fear, says Houvenaghel

By Adam McKendry

Northern Ireland's Olympic silver medal winning cyclist Wendy Houvenaghel has described British Cycling as having a "culture of fear" due to a "medal at any cost" attitude.

The 42-year old, who won a silver medal in the women's individual pursuit at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, has become the latest to speak out against the organisation following comments made by fellow cyclists Jess Varnish, Nicole Cooke and Emma Pooley.

In April 2016, Varnish spoke against the culture she experienced and accused then technical director Shane Sutton of using sexist language when referring to the female cyclists, while Cooke claimed British Cycling was "run by men for men" and Pooley levelled criticism at Sutton's predecessor Sir Dave Brailsford.

Houvenaghel backed up her fellow cyclists yesterday, accusing British Cycling of "ageism" and showing "zero regard" for her welfare, while also claiming she felt "vindicated" by a leaked report that outlined British Cycling's failures.

The report led to the resignations of Sutton and Brailsford after the organisation admitted it did not pay "sufficient care and attention" to its athletes.

Houvenaghel claimed that she felt "oppressed" by the pair, while the report revealed that British Cycling had "sanitised" its own investigation into Varnish's accusations that Sutton had used sexist language towards her.

The Londonderry cyclist, who won three World Championship gold medals between 2008 and 2011, also stated that she put up with the situation because "if you rocked the boat, you were out", but that she was then "discarded" for the 2012 Olympic Games in London anyway.

British Cycling defended their position, saying they were "proud to support Wendy in what was a wonderfully successful cycling career" and she was "part of a pioneering generation of riders who set new standards of excellence", but was dropped for London 2012 "based on her performance".

When asked about being dropped for London, Houvenaghel replied: "It was definitely not about performance.

"I don't think the fastest team on the day were permitted to race.

"There are certain chosen riders on the team who will not have experienced the culture of fear and will not have been on the receiving end of that.

"There was no choice. If you rocked the boat, you were out. There was no alternative.

"Medals at any cost, that's how it was whenever I was there, certainly in 2012."

The Northern Ireland rider, who retired in 2014 due to a back injury, also claimed she saw evidence of bullying and unfair treatment within the organisation, something that she experienced herself.

"I can certainly relate to the bullying," she said.

"For me personally, I felt it was more ageism - being a little bit older than my team-mates, it didn't seem to be something that the staff necessarily wanted for our team in 2012.

"After six years of constantly medalling at World Cups, World Championships, nationals, both on the track and on the road, they discarded me in a very undignified way from the team, which I don't feel was right."

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