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http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2012/jan/30/london-2012-nicole-cooke-london
Nicole Cooke's propensity for solo glory may cost the gifted 28-year-old the chance to defend her Olympic title in London

All the talk is of whether the cyclist Mark Cavendish, the BBC's sports personality of the year, can get Britain's medal count going on the first day of the London Games with a victory in the Olympic road race. If he were to bring it off, it would be a wonderful moment for the Manxman and, in motivational terms, for the team as a whole. But it would only reproduce the achievement of Nicole Cooke in 2008, when the Welsh woman emerged out of the drizzle under the Great Wall of China to overpower her rivals in the final stretch and take a gritty win that kicked open the gate for a rush of medals.

Three and a half years after Beijing, and six months ahead of London, there is a nice little dilemma brewing up for Dave Brailsford, the head of British Cycling, and his performance manager, Shane Sutton. Will Cooke, the reigning Olympic champion, be given the chance to defend her title on home ground, or will she be asked to stand aside?

At 28, she should be in her prime. But although she followed the Olympic victory by winning the world championship a few weeks later, the last four years have not been consistently kind to her. She has found herself on the outside of British Cycling's charmed circle, a position underlined by her performance in the World Championships in Copenhagen last autumn, when she was heavily criticised for a lack of team spirit that, it was said, lay behind a failure to match Cavendish's historic success in the men's race the following day.

Cooke was one of seven British women riders in Denmark that day. The plan was for the team to work in support of Lizzie Armitstead, then 22 years old, a gifted Yorkshirewoman who had shown outstanding form throughout the season and was judged by the coaches to have the best chance of profiting from a bunch sprint. Among the other riders were Emma Pooley, Sharon Laws and Lucy Martin, then fellow members of Armitstead's trade team, Garmin‑Cervélo.

The riders did their jobs according to the schedule until towards the end of the last lap, when Armitstead found herself momentarily delayed behind a crash. Cooke, who had been delegated to lead her out for the final sprint, could not see her. Instead of waiting to locate the team leader, she launched her own sprint, finishing just out of the medals in fourth place. Without assistance, Armitstead recovered to cross the line in seventh position, which suggested that with the benefit of the planned assistance she might have achieved her ambition. Tears were shed in the team bus afterwards, and strong language was used back in the team's hotel later on.

That the dispute was not resolved by those exchanges became clear before Christmas, when Armitstead gave an interview to the monthly magazine Cycle Sport, in which she pulled no punches when asked a couple of blunt questions. How did Nicole ride? "For herself." How often does Nicole work for other Great Britain team-mates? "I've never seen her work for a team-mate."

It needs to be remembered that unlike Armitstead, who is a product of British Cycling's Olympic Podium Programme and honed her skills – as did Cavendish – with the superb track team, Cooke became a professional bike racer at a time when Britain had very little going for it, certainly nothing like the beautifully oiled development machine available to today's talented teenagers. She was offered a chance to join up, but balked when told that she would have to conform to a regime which insisted on participation in the track programme. She wanted to be a road cyclist, and didn't see the point of spending most of her time in the velodrome. That decision revealed a rift which not even an Olympic gold medal and a world title have managed to close.

Cooke is an independent soul. She turned pro at 19, joining a team in Italy and learning to speak the language in order to be able to function effectively. But she sometimes makes terrible career decisions, and perhaps her rejection of British Cycling's proposal was the first of them.

In recent years she has flitted from team to team, seldom spending more than a season with any of them, wasting a year on an abortive attempt to start her own outfit and never building profitable relationships with fellow riders.

There is an obvious contrast with Armitstead, Pooley, Laws and Martin, who learned at the end of the year that the Garmin-Cervélo women's team was being disbanded. At the beginning of January it was announced that all four of them will race this year for a Dutch team, AA Drink-Leontien, an arrangement that will delight British Cycling's coaches since it keeps them working together all season, strengthening the sort of bonds that could pay off on the Mall in July.

Cyclists like to spend the European winter putting the miles into their legs in warmer climates, and at the moment Cooke is in Australia, where she sprinted to a win in the recent Noosa Grand Prix in Queensland. In Britain in six months' time, however, she may find herself out in the cold, unable to defend on home territory the title she won so proudly and dramatically – and, she may care to remember, with the help of Pooley and Laws – in a distant land.

richard.williams@ guardian.co.uk twitter.com/@ rwilliams1947
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  • benotti69

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    Seems to be one sided.

    Cooke did it on her own the hard way. Hard to imagine her wanting to run into the arms of TeamGB and its strict structures.

    I am a fan of Cooke. Sorry to see that she got not much support after her magnificent double in 2008.
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  • "ahaha, ever had the feeling you been cheated?" JL SF Jan'78

    Dim

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    Nicole does have a reputation of not being a team player, and being a bit of a primadonna. wether its true or not is another matter.

    my own experience, at the nationals last year, while the other girls were happily milling around the crowd, talking to fans, getting changed in the backs of cars, Nicole was busy harranging the marshalls because there wasnt somewhere private for her to go and sit away from the fans etc.

    This may have been a one off, she may just have been having a bad day, but she didnt seem in the best of moods

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  • Martin318is

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    Nicole reminds me -fairly or unfairly - of Kathy Watt the Australian former cyclist.  Kathy spent many years as the strongest female in the country but at the same time it appeared that she was in it for her and everyone else came second. Famous moments included chasing a break that had a favoured team-mate (who was the only sprinter in the break) in it and in the process towing the race favourite almost all the way up to the winning break.  She also did one race (Commonwealth games I think it was) with an earpiece connected to her own coach while the whole rest of the team were on a different frequency connected to the Australian coach...

    Its a shame that Nicole seems to have had bad management in her career.  She should be an outright star with all the fan support etc but it appears that she tends to shoot herself in the foot publicly at key moments...
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    Nicole has earnt herself a reputation for being hard to work with. She was screwed over by British Cycling at the end of 2008, as the Halfords project was abandoned as "mission accomplished" pretty much the second she crossed the line in Beijing. But some of her moves since then have not helped her cause.
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  • pedaling squares

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    There must be a lot more to this than the finale of Copenhagen. I'm not sure what else she was supposed to do - wait for someone who might not be there while the other nations sprint for the line? It's not like she pulled an Alexi and withheld food, but then again it's not like she pulled an Alexi and won the race. GB cycling has gone all in for London 2012 and I can foresee them leaving some of their very best talents on the sidelines if they don't think they'll commit entirely to the team strategy.
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  • "Well don't run with the riders, you twit."

    Francois the Postman

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    It's more likely that Copenhagen was the place were long-running attitudes and agitations ran into one of those freak moments where an already thin string could only snap.

    I enjoyed reading that in the paper this morning, and the one impression I was left with was that they all, from their private perspectives, had probably very good reasons to feel justified by sticking to their guns.

    If Nicole had not been overtaken by the whole "new approach" here, she'd probably stood out for having crafted her own path. Now people write as if she made "poor career decisions". But she only was able to make poor decisions, because prior to that, she had made the exact right ones.

    Personally I quite like the souls who get places by following their own nose. She certainly did. Cycling Team GB 2012 'with or without her' is not a guaranteed success story either, btw. Sure, it looks like a decent 'bagging' opportunity. But a lot can change through very little though.
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  • benotti69

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    It's more likely that Copenhagen was the place were long-running attitudes and agitations ran into one of those freak moments where an already thin string could only snap.

    I enjoyed reading that in the paper this morning, and the one impression I was left with was that they all, from their private perspectives, had probably very good reasons to feel justified by sticking to their guns.

    If Nicole had not been overtaken by the whole "new approach" here, she'd probably stood out for having crafted her own path. Now people write as if she made "poor career decisions". But she only was able to make poor decisions, because prior to that, she had made the exact right ones.

    Personally I quite like the souls who get places by following their own nose. She certainly did. Cycling Team GB 2012 'with or without her' is not a guaranteed success story either, btw. Sure, it looks like a decent 'bagging' opportunity. But a lot can change through very little though.

    +1 FtP

    TeamGB on the track have been a big success. But on the road they had a course made for Cav in 2011 and it was theirs for the taking and they did a great ride to take it.

    Cooke has done a lot without any of TeamGB and she is probably used to trusting her own instincts. Maybe too many in TeamGB wanted to take credit for her wins in 2008 and she felt that they weren't there when she was doing the hard work.

    Lot more to this than we have been told yet.

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  • riding too slowly

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    Article in today's Times.  Sadly not too impressive or informed.  Not joining the dots yet.

    Copenhagen did not add up.  If Cooke was to be criticised, then Pooley and a couple of others needed shooting.  Where was the train to set up Cooke if she was playing the female role of Thomas ? Brad did it, but Pooley does not ?   And then what was Armistead doing ?  Certainly she is no CAV, but wants to be treated like that ?  My internet search for 2012 + win + Lizzie, does not seem to be working.  Had they done anything to practice these tactics that were going to propel Lizzie from also ran to winner ?  Didn't look like it from my sofa !

    +1 to comments Benotti69 and Francois the P, and Pedalling squares

    Thinking back to the 2002 CG at Manchester where Cook won as a lone rider in a cracking race against a Team Australia that included the world number 1, didn't she have to leave straight after the race to go and be number 1 domestique for Joanne Sommariba in the Women's Tour, when it was a Tour ?  I am sure I read a couple of reports at the time.  Not a team player ?  Well  first of all you need a ........

    Brought up in a tough school.  That always makes it hard to hide lack of respect for those who probably don't deserve it, even if they want it.   Lizzies teenage outburst to the press and Cookes lack of response were both entirely in keeping.    No, I am a Cooke fan.  Done it the hard way, on her own.  That British women's team has certainly never showed up at the pointy end of a race in the 10 years Cook was number 1 and needed support, but I don't think we heard her bitching.  Never heard Sean Kelly bitch about a lack of team Eire either.    I am not sure we will ever see Cook going for gold again but she sure as hell has won some great races and put up some good fights.  Leagues ahead of Cav in my books, but I can see why the "glory today" boys luv him mostest.

    No women's team SKY - even when Garmin folded?  Brailsford - how can having all the GB riders in one pro squad - Team Sky be absolutely right for the men (as he states so often) and yet to do the same for the women would overstretch the resource base of Team Sky.  Rubbish, complete B***s**t.  My take is that the coaching team hated the criticsm post Beijing of "you can only win on the track and nobody rides the track".  Cooke's success was so clearly not theirs, which is why they never responded with - look we won gold in the RR and silver in the TT - instead they were silent  and so now they have set about building their own (male only) road success and being paid twice while they do so.  No place for Cooke or Pooley and if Lizzie is wound up to shoot her mouth off and bring the whole women's squad down, so what, London on the road is about CAV and what the coaching team have done. Brad and the Tour, before that is a great shot as well.  The women can go boil their heads.    Day Zero for GB road success started in 2009.  Men first and then post 2012 we will build a women's squad.

    Team Sky to launch a women's squad after the "failure" at London ?  My 50p is on it.  I can't see Lizzie winning it, short of having Cav lead her out, with her braces wrapped around his seat pin.
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    benotti69

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    Interesting that Armistead was to be brought up to Cooke! It seems Armistead was trying on her own to get up to her. Sounds like Cooke was at the front to go with any breaks up the hill. So where were was the rest of the team leading Armsitead to the front and why was she not very near the front from 10kms out?

    Wonder will anyone from TeamGB comment on Cooke's comments. Their apparent EGOs make me think they will. That they thought they could walk away with 2 golds from the RR says how big their EGOs are to me and that racing can be planned to the win prior to the race shows it too.



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  • riding too slowly

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    Benotti - I think you have it exactly.  I am not sure quite where the idea came from that either Cooke or Armistead could get a win from, formed, but it certainly was not rational based on records of rides up to the World Champs or since and where was the well drilled lead out train.  The horsepower was there to do it, but the rider around who it all hinged was Pooley and she didn't show.  And to be frank, Armistead looked either not to know what she had to do or was deliberately riding for the "I wuz robbed" tale.  A far easier option rather than put yourself right in the mix and then see how you don't stack up to the hype.  Straight after the race she came out with some tale of being trapped behind a fallen rider and then later sang another tune.
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  • benotti69

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    Benotti - I think you have it exactly.  I am not sure quite where the idea came from that either Cooke or Armistead could get a win from, formed, but it certainly was not rational based on records of rides up to the World Champs or since and where was the well drilled lead out train.  The horsepower was there to do it, but the rider around who it all hinged was Pooley and she didn't show.  And to be frank, Armistead looked either not to know what she had to do or was deliberately riding for the "I wuz robbed" tale.  A far easier option rather than put yourself right in the mix and then see how you don't stack up to the hype.  Straight after the race she came out with some tale of being trapped behind a fallen rider and then later sang another tune.

    i reread your post above this one, the long reply and i agree that Brailsford not running a women's teamsky is a disgrace considering all the facilities they have at teamsky and teamGB. how much extra would it need and if they want to do the double in the RRs this must have made sense? But maybe they thought that if Cooke wins it and was not on TeamSkyW they would look foolish. I dont see how they can leave Cooke out as defending holder if she is riding well and not injured. She has had a hard a 4 years since 2008 and i am not really sure why? Are most of the women's teams nationality based and therefore Cooke is not an immediate choice for foreign teams.

    If Armistead wants to win the Olympic RR or World Champ Race this year should she not be in the same races as Vos? Vos will be the one to beat. I magine in women's cycling the current top races to win are Olympics, Worlds then nationals in that order. After that i suppose sponsors want to see riders in races that are relevant to their market place. But the DS should know that Armistead is the great Brit hope for this years Olympics and the worlds so would want her competing against Vos...

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  • riding too slowly

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    I really don't think Brailsford has any motivation to do the double, otherwise he would commit to it.  The FACT that there is no women's team sky and so obviously there was no plan (worthy of the use of that word to describe it)  at Copenhagen, screams it out.  Yes the win at the women's GW when the real hitters were all somewhere else renders it hollow.  We will get a far better form guide this week-end at Flanders.  Lizzie states it is a big one.  Her chance to take on Vos when it matters, with a squad around her that is probably better than that around Vos. Its show time ! My guess - she will abdicate team leadership to another rider on the AA drinks squad.  Got the excuse in the bag before the starting gun goes.
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  • « Last Edit: March 29, 2012, 22:13 by riding too slowly »

    Dancing on the Pedals

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    I'm not a huge fan of Cooke, but I can't help but feel a bit sorry for her - whatever the rights or wrongs of what happened in Copenhagen, you certainly get the feeling that she has been shafted and made the scapegoat.   Her achievements on the road are phenomenal, and as the article says, with no Team GB support, and she deserves to be held in far higher esteem than she is.  For London, it would be logical to have two protected riders - both Cooked and Armistead, if they are on form, have the ability to feature at the business end of the race.  However, in the 'pursuitofgoldatallcosts' approach of Team GB, they will prefer to put all their eggs in one (in all likelihood Armistead) shaped basket.

    Oh, and Sky's lack of a women's team is ridiculous imho.
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  • 'Sacrifice and hard work is our only secret' - Alberto Contador
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    riding too slowly

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    We will get a far better form guide this week-end at Flanders.

    We did.  None of team GB are in the medal hunt on current form.

    Lizzie states it is a big one.  Her chance to take on Vos when it matters, with a squad around her that is probably better than that around Vos. Its show time ! My guess - she will abdicate team leadership to another rider on the AA drinks squad.  Got the excuse in the bag before the starting gun goes.
    Not there, but my guess is Pooley and Armistead worked for Wild who got 4th. So it rather all blows a hole in the Lizzie tale "I wuz robbed".  Darling, nobody robbed you of anything.  Cav you are not.  And as I said earlier, I am not sure we will ever see Cooke with a GB jersey on again.  Which then makes one reflect that if in the closing stages of the World champs, Van Vleuten and Wild were there for Vos [2nd].  Bronzini[1st] had 2 team-mates with her getting her to the line and Arndt was motoring it for for Tuetenberg[3rd], what might have happened if madam and her AA team mate Pooley had actually done some work and led out Cooke ?  Cooke was in the hunt with nobody for help.

    Dancing on the pedals - "made a scapegoat", yes I think that about sums it up. +1
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  • « Last Edit: April 11, 2012, 09:10 by riding too slowly, Reason: did not make sense "no - not" »

     



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