Nicole Cooke wins Gold at Beijing PIC AP via The TelegraphDo you know Nicole Cooke? You should if you have or want to have an interest in women’s sport, but especially if you’re interested in clean sport.
The Welsh cyclist retired last year with a screamer of a retirement statement laying bare the hypocrisy of doping and blatant discrimination against female riders. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for the sports fan in your life, a copy of “The Breakaway” will ignite a few fireside chats.
So who is Cooke? Starting in 1994 with British Youth titles, and peaking with Gold at the Beijing Olympics, she claimed numerous World Championships and World Cup first places, UCI No 1 ranking, race and stage wins in the Giro and other races along the way.
Impressed yet? In her own words most of this was achieved in spite of rather than because of support from the official world of British cycling. And as a clean rider, the race was often lost before the starter’s pistol.
She wrote about her first setbacks on the international scene: “It didn’t really matter how many times I beat the WCPP (World Class Performance Programme) riders. They were on the WCPP, coached by the WCPP coaches and managed by the WCPP management. I was a schoolgirl. If they sent me to Sydney (Olympics), they would be telling the rest of the world they were wasting the Lottery-playing public’s money. They were wasting it, but did not want to admit it.”
BSkyB came on board after Beijing but simply ignored the female riders, and it seems this was accepted by the cycling authorities.
Cooke writes: “I didn’t need a crystal ball to predict that, by the time of writing six years later, while millions have been poured into a system to convert the male non-finishers at Beijing and Varese into world beaters, virtually nothing has come the way of the female road riders whether it was Emma, Lizzie, Sharon or me.”
PIC via MailOnline
Alongside comes the steady beat of injuries, and sadly of court battles to get paid. Also the devastating impact of doping.
Canadian Geneviève Jeanson was a great rival but in 2007 admitted using EPO since she was 16. Male riders like Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis smashed the sport’s reputation.
Cooke writes: “As Floyd grabbed the headlines … Thomas (team manager) was rightly livid as his sponsors for 2007 walked away. It is very difficult to think about the consequences.”
And later: “It is these unknown riders who are the victims” remembering clean riders disillusioned and quitting.
The technicalities of cycling are sometimes difficult to grasp for the layman reader, but you’re cheering for her to win with every turn of the page.
Graeme “The Flying Scotsman” Obree wrote in a powerful foreword: “Nicole was a trailblazer who forged a path that was clearly defined for the male riders but equally she struggled to get women’s cycling treated seriously in the UK, and there were many barriers placed in her way.”
A competitor to the last Cooke ends graciously: “I couldn’t have had the career, the fun and the ups and downs without any of you. Sometimes I won, more often I lost. There is nothing I loved more than a rival who would not give me an inch.”
It’s a shame for women’s cycling and sport that more often than not her biggest rivals were not clearly visible.