Saturday 25 June 2011

Cooke's cooking

Twice winner of the Tour de France Feminin Nicole Cooke looks set to do all she can to beat her rival Emma Pooley and regain her Women's road race champion title in a sprint finish at Stamfordham on the 26th of June. Cooke, aged 28, who missed out on much of 2009 due to illness, has a lot to ride for - the illness brought an end to her nine year winning streak and she needs to start bringing in results. There are personal reasons, too, as she believes that Pooley's Garmin team - which features such heavy-hitters as track champion Lizzie Armitstead, the lightning-fast 22-year-old world track champion who will doubtless also be looking for success and probably has the best chance of catching Cooke in a sprint - have deliberately used questionable tactics to bring her down.

Nicole Cooke's past victories are numerous.
Meanwhile, Pooley herself is a force to be reckoned with as she too has won a Tour de France Feminin in 2009 when the race was last held before being discontinued due to lack of sponsorship. Cooke says that team riding is not permitted in National Championships and will be alone in tomorrow's race, whereas Pooley will be backed up by Armitstead, Sharon Laws and Lucy Martin; this being what's worrying for Cooke who refused to shake hands with Pooley when beaten by her in the past, later hinting that the Garmin team had ganged up against her in order to achieve victory.

Much of the cycling press seems to have forgotten Nicole over the last year, during which she hasn't won any races. However, if they've written her off for good they may well be shown to look foolish later. When she was at her best, she was one of the fastest and most skilled female riders the world has yet seen and with her future career to fight for there's a high likelihood that we'll see a return of her trademark grit, determination, speed and excellence in Northumberland tomorrow. The event, featuring a variety of important races over the weekend, is virtually guaranteed a high turn-out with several of Sky's male riders - including Dauphine winner Bradley Wiggins, rapidly becoming as close to a cycling superstar as it's possible to be in Britain and Cooke's countryman Geraint Thomas - making an appearance, but it might be the women who produce the most interesting race.

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