New China coach Shane Sutton 'excited' ahead of return to Manchester velodrome
Shane Sutton will be "decked out" in China's colours at the Track World Cup in Manchester this weekend when he returns to the velodrome he quit last year amid claims of bullying and discrimination.
The 60-year-old Australian resigned in April 2016 within hours of being suspended for alleged comments about para-cyclists and the furore surrounding Jess Varnish's removal from the Olympic programme.
That ended a hugely successful 14-year association with the GB team for Sutton, who once claimed he had red, white and blue in his veins.
Following his exit, Sutton was criticised in a select committee hearing for his part in the delivery of a mystery package to Sir Bradley Wiggins at a race in 2011 - an incident which is still being investigated by UK Anti-Doping - and an independent inquiry into the Varnish affair accused him of operating within a "culture of fear" at the National Cycling Centre.
While he admits he would win no prizes for diplomacy, Sutton denies the bullying and discrimination charges, is not short of fans within the British set-up and even his fiercest critics rate him as a coach.
With that in mind, a return to the track was inevitable and having been disappointed to miss out on a senior role with Australia earlier this year and seen talks with France come to nothing, Sutton agreed to take the Chinese head coach job last month.
And it was perhaps equally inevitable his competitive debut for China would come in Manchester, where he has lived and worked for so long.
Speaking to Press Association Sport, Sutton said: "I'm excited to be back and what's been really nice is the reception I've had.
"A few people came over to say 'hello' when we unloaded the bikes on Monday but we were training on Tuesday and there were lots of hugs and handshakes from the GB guys.
"But I'll be all decked out in China colours on Friday and it should be fun."
Looking ahead to the action, Sutton said China has brought "a pretty new squad" to Manchester as many of the Asian superpower's riders have retired after this year's National Games, a four-yearly event of Olympic proportions in Chinese sport.
" I went over to watch them and there was a massive array of talent, so it was pretty hard to take when most of them retired," he explained.
"We identified about 40 riders but only about half a dozen are carrying on, so we've got to start again. But I've spent time with them and I can see their ability and character."
Sutton said the plan is to try to replicate what has made British track cycling so dominant, which means mixing foreign and local coaching expertise, bringing the best talent under one roof and surrounding it with world-class sports science.
He explained that talent has previously been spread around the country's regions but the Chinese Cycling Association (CAA) now wants to concentrate its efforts at the Laoshan velodrome which was used for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. There is a hotel on site, new coaches have been hired and the CAA is seeking sponsors to give the programme more financial firepower.
Sutton, however, will be "flitting" between China and Europe for the next 12 months, as there is a World Cup in Belarus in January, the world championships in the Netherlands at the end of February and then he is keen to set up a base for China's endurance riders in Italy or Spain so they can train and compete on the road during the European summer.
The first of six sessions at the UCI Track World Cup in Manchester starts at 2pm on Friday, with the final session on Sunday afternoon.