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Nicole Cooke

Olympic Champion, Road Race

Nicole Cooke - gold medallist at the Beijing Olympics 

(August 2008)

 

 

Photo - Rob Jones, Canadian Cyclist.com

Following on from the Olympic Games a number of medal winning and top riders took time out to chat to WCN. First of these was Britain’s Nicole Cooke Olympic Road Race Champion Beijing 2008 who, four days after her win, was still extremely excited and the reality of the last years achievements had not really sunk in.

 Cooke realized her lifelong dream to win the Olympic road Gold medal that started when she was very young. Cooke was asked how she was feeling: "It's a dream come true", was Nicole's reaction, "It's fantastic I really can't take it all in. When I came over the line I was just so happy, so many emotions were coming out that I probably wasn't composed enough to take my hands off the bars and do a salute. I made so much noise because that is the person I am."  

Cooke spoke in recognition of the efforts of the team. “We did it,"  she said. "It was perfect. It's a dream come true. I want to thank all the people who've been there from the start. I've worked so hard. I am so happy. I owe a lot to Emma [Pooley] and Sharon [Laws] because they did such a great job putting everybody under pressure and allowing me to ride my race” said Cooke

"When the group got away I was just hoping that the other four in would work together, and I knew if we did I had a great chance, but you can't take anything for granted so I had to stay calm and work hard. When I crossed the line I really could hardly believe it. It's the result of a lot of hard work over the years by so many people, not just me, so I'd like to thank them all. I'm so glad to have repaid such great support." 

Cooke was asked is she had any doubts given the awful conditions during the race that she could win. “I had looked at the weather reports in the run up to the race and they had forecast thunder storms so we were prepared. We knew that it would be tough for everyone, we had to be cautious but when Emma [Pooley] attacked it enable us to me more defensive and not force the pace.”  

Cooke was also asked why she had chosen to wear a skinsuit , more usually seen in time trials, for the road race, she responded "I have done this on a number of occasions in the past for big races and it seems to work for me. I feel more comfortable on the bike and it is tried and tested so it made sense to do this for the Olympic race"

There were a number of reports regarding the fact that Cooke lost contact off the back of the break group in the final 500m. They have varied from mechanical, to planned line through the corner, to crash, can you set the record straight?

“This was a planned route to ensure I hit the final approach safely in the conditions. I was under orders to make sure I did not take any risks. Three kilometres from the finish, Julian [Wynn, British Team Manager] gave me instruction to hold back, and stay out of trouble.” The instruction was apparently due to a nervousness that the lightweight tyres that Cooke was using on the wet road could slide out on that final bend. There was also the chance that one of the other women might tumble and take Cooke down with her.

“It’s just still so exciting,” she said as she chatted. “The race went so well Emma [Pooley] and Sharon [Laws] helped me get there.

This really was a team effort that until 2008 had seemed way away from Cooke. Pooley had risen to fame during the 2007 season and her performance in the World Championships in 2007 and her performance against Cooke in the British Championships in 2008 really cemented her place on the team.

The final place in the team was found, out of the blue in January 2008, when Laws became known to the British Cycling Federation after her silver-medal performance in the Australian Road race championships in Ballarat.  The Australian race was only the eighth time that Laws had ridden a road race and among those who finished behind her was Sara Carrigan, the Athens Olympic champion and a number of other top Australian riders. At the time, Laws was working as an environmental consultant in Melbourne and was an unknown when she broke away with Oenone Wood, on her way to taking second, on a meteoric rise to fame that she could not have predicted.

During the Olympic race, Laws was twice knocked from her bike during the race when other riders crashed, but she still managed to get back on her bike. This was on top of the fact that she was already riding the event only weeks after breaking her fibula (the smaller bone, on the outside, of the lower leg) in the a crash whilst filming a pre-Olympics feature with the BBC. 

Cooke was asked who has been the biggest influence in her life. Her response was emphatic, “My family, they have always been there for me”  

Cooke has spoken on many occasions about the people who have supported her through her career. She was asked what she would say to a budding young cyclist to help them get started in professional cycling. “I hope my own dedication to the sport would inspire other youngsters to take to their bikes. It is important for them to enjoy their sport and just enjoying it and let that passion drive you forward. I would hope that seeing what is possible inspires people,” Cooke said. 

Cooke was asked where she saw her career going from this point forward. 

“I can only see to the World Championships and the end of the season right now, I am not thinking past that” said Cooke. She was guarded about any professional contracts for next season. The British set up had been perfect to allow her to focus on the Olympics and the World Championships in September. 

Cooke was asked how she will refocus with the World Championships only weeks away after the excitement of winning a Gold medal.

“It is going to be a while before I stop smiling about getting gold that is for sure. We will prepare like we have for this, as a team.” 

Cooke again reflected on the support of her team mates and how important it has been for her success.  “We have been training together all year and we knew we had a great team. Sharon and Emma have amazing talent and bring their own strengths to the team” said Cooke.  

Reflecting on what Cooke thought made a truly successful team, she added, “For me success comes from working together and understanding each others strengths. On any given day one of the team could have the opportunity to win and that breed’s success? We also had the spirit that gained from being in the Olympic village, that really pulled this all together. It was just such a great team and such a good atmosphere.” 

Cooke paid tribute to Pooley and her silver medal in the Time Trial. ”Emma worked so hard and is a very worthy medallist; it just shows what a strong cycling team we have. It was a very hard course that required maximum effort throughout. My legs felt fine going in, but when I started I knew it wasn’t going to be a great ride. I just tried to dig deep; the race is never over until it’s over. 

Cooke chatted about her decision to carefully plan her racing calendar, minimising her season was a strategic decision. “I have mistimed my season before; this time, peaking in Beijing was my sole aim and the gold is entire justification of every decision made. The structure was set up for one thing only and that was winning the bike race. The plan was exactly what you saw and I am so happy about it.”

Thanks and congratulations to Nicole Cooke – Olympic Road Race Champion, 2008  - for chatting to WomensCycling.net

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Nicole Cooke at the Olympics

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