RUPERT GUINNESS March 31, 2012
"If we can’t win, I want Australia to win" ... Shane Sutton, right, with Chris Hoy. Photo: Getty Images
Shane Sutton is as Australian as they come … well, that is until you note his title as the British cycling head coach. It's his job to plan the downfall of rival cycling powerhouses such as Australia.
But then raise the subject of his old Sydney club St George, his brother Gary (who is a former world track champion and coaches in Sydney) and the country town of Moree where he was born, and the Aussie in him resonates in both his accent and turn of phrase - such as when he talks about how much he loves his work, and how he feels so empty on a rare day off.
As Sutton, 54, told the Herald of his job: ''It's a constant roller coaster. You get on it and don't want to get off. When you finish a championship and have a day off, it's like your first love and when you have that feeling in the pit in your stomach - you are in love with someone, but you can't have her.''
Sutton is not the only Australian to coach sport overseas. But his cachet as one Britain's revered will come to the fore next week when Great Britain races at the world track titles in Melbourne.
However, Sutton says he wants for nothing more after British success than to see Australian riders succeed - whether it is on the track or the road, where he is also the head sports director of the British Sky team that has a Tour de France contender in Briton Bradley Wiggins.
''Obviously I'm closer to it than anybody, but I don't let it get to me. If we can't win, I want Australia to win. It's pretty simple because of that blood,'' Sutton says.
But next week at Hisense Arena, where the world track titles will run from Wednesday to Sunday, his main purpose will be to work towards British victory in what will be every nation's last chance against the very best before the Olympic Games in London later this year.
As for the Australian-British rivalry that has continued for years in all sports, while he doesn't mind his riders' engaging in some ''banter'', he steadfastly refuses to let it affect his thinking. ''There are not a lot of teams that know the history between the two countries,'' Sutton says.
''But we will never ever be [dictated to by what] Australia [does]. You can't change things around to try and race Australia, because then you'll lose. We have to map our pathway and be the best we can be.''
Australia dominated last year's world titles in Apeldoorn, winning 12 medals - eight golds, two silvers and two bronzes. Britain - which did not send its best team - was second, and Germany was third. The recent London World Cup showed how tough next week will be. Britain was first, Australia was second and Germany third.
Sutton believes that in these world titles and Olympics more nations will enter the fray. ''There has been a lot of talk about the Brits and the Aussies,'' he says. ''We need to clarify that there are a lot of good bike riders out there. Look at the French sprint teams, Russian pursuit teams … the Germans, and how they broke world records in sprint distances this year.''
It goes without saying that big things will still be expected from the British team in Melbourne. Sutton says that whatever happens, the focus is on the Olympics. He concedes, however, that for his riders going to the Games as world champions will help.
''I want to see the gains continue to be made that we have already made over the last six months,'' he says. ''At the London World Cup the world saw us step up a little bit. We are not going to hide behind the fact that [otherwise] we haven't been great since Beijing [and the 2008 Olympics]. But we are on the journey to London, and for us this is all about London. But what are we looking for? As British cyclists … at the world titles, that will be to become world champions. Everyone wants to be world champion … but in an Olympic year, that is a bonus.
''You want to go to the Olympics knowing you're best in the world. A lot is not going to change before then. You're not going to see someone come out of nowhere and be Olympic champion.''
Meanwhile, Cycling Australia yesterday trimmed the team pursuit squad leaving Jack Bobridge, Michael Hepburn Rohan Dennis, Alexander Edmondson and Australian omnium champion Glenn O'Sheain contention for the four spots on the team.