Nicole Cooke retires and goes out with guns blazing against dopers (+ video)

Former world and Olympic champion brings curtain down on glittering career at age of 29

by Simon_MacMichael   January 14, 2013  

Nicole Cooke at 2010 GB road nats (copyright britishcycling.org.uk)

Nicole Cooke, the first person, male or female, to win the Olympic and world championship road races in the same year, has retired from professional cycling at the age of 29. The rider from South Wales announced her decision at a press conference in London today, going out with guns blazing.

Cooke reserved perhaps her strongest criticism for Lance Armstrong, according to BBC Sport: "When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him the tissue, spare a thought for all those genuine people who walked away with no rewards - just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances.

"I have ridden through the time of Lance and all of the dreadful tragedy that the abuses surrounding him have brought to my sport. I have faced up to the temptations but have always remained true to the 12-year-old inside me.

"Yes I have suffered as a result, in many ways, but so what? I am not alone, I am one representative of that group, those who do it right. I have ridden through some of the darkest days of the sport in terms of corruption by the cheats and liars.

"I cannot change the era or time that I am born into. I am very proud that I have ridden true to myself and placed my morals beyond a need to win. I have ridden clean throughout my career in a sport so tainted,” she added.

It’s not just the shadow that doping has cast over the sport that might lead some to think that Cooke was born a few years too early, however.

Had Cooke been five years younger, she would have benefited from the outset of her career from the support provided by British Cycling to riders several years her junior.

Instead, Cooke at times found herself in conflict with those running the national team; she tried unsuccessfully to get British Cycling to back her appeal to fight for age limits to be relaxed ahead of the Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

She also had a very public row, conducted via press interviews, with Lizzie Armitstead following the 2011 world championship in Copenhagen.

There, the latter had been the protected British rider but Cooke failed to wait for her after a crash, instead riding her own race and finishing fourth. Armitstead, who Cooke was supposed to lead out in the sprint, came seventh.

The pair buried the hatchet ahead of last year’s Olympic Games in London, where Armitstead, again nominated to spearhead the British challenge, took silver behind Marianne Vos. The Dutchwoman, like Cooke before her, would go on to add the rainbow jersey to her gold medal.

After showing immense promise as a teenager – in 2001 she defended her junior world road race title and the same year added rainbow jerseys in the time trial and in mountain biking – Cooke spent several years as arguably Britain’s highest profile rider of either gender, particularly after David Millar was banned for doping and before Mark Cavendish burst on the scene.

The apex of her career came in 2008 when, a month after securing Great Britain’s first gold medal of the Beijing Olympics in the rain, she added the world championship in Varese, the Italian town just a few kilometres across the border from the Swiss town of Lugano where she had made her home.

She was British national road race championship an astonishing nine times in a row from 2001 to 2009 – she also won it in 1999 – and also won races including the women’s version of the Tour of Flanders and, three times, the Flèche Wallonne, plus the Grande Boucle (the women’s Tour de France) twice and the Giro d'Italia Femminile. She also won the road race at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.

Despite those victories, Cooke was never settled for long at one team – of the nine outfits she rode for between 2002 and 2012, she only rode for two for longer than one season, several falling victim to the precarious finances of women’s racing, and she revealed today that on more than one occasion she had been forced to sue for unpaid wages.

Cooke insists that the instability on the women’s side of the sport was in large part due to the fallout from scandals in men’s cycling, saying today: "Every scandal on the men's side has caused sponsors to leave on the women's side. With such thin budgets, the losses have a greater relative impact on what survives.”

She admitted that she herself had been forced with the stark choice of whether to dope or remain clean.

"I have had days where temptation to start onto the slippery slope was brought in front of me. In my Tour de France, when I was 19, as the race went on my strength left me.

"I was invited into a team camper and asked what 'medicines' I would like to take to help me and was reminded that the team had certain expectations of me during the race and I was not living up to them.

"I said I would do my best until I had to drop out of the race, but I was not taking anything."

Cooke also attacked self-confessed doper Tyler Hamilton, whose best-selling book The Secret Race, cowritten with Daniel Coyle, won last year's William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

"Tyler Hamilton will make more money from his book describing how he cheated than I will make in all my years of honest labour," she pointed out.

"Please don't reward people like Hamilton with money. That is the last thing he needs. Donate his literary prize and earnings to charity. There are many places infinitely more deserving than the filthy hands of Hamilton".

While many insist that cycling is a cleaner sport now than it was in the late 1990s and first half of the last decade, Cooke is not convinced.

"I do despair that the sport will ever clean itself up when rewards of stealing are greater than riding clean. If that remains the case, the temptation for those with no morals will always be too great.

"I have been robbed by drugs cheats, but am fortunate, I am here with more in my basket than the 12 year old dreamed of.

"But for many people out there who do ride clean; people with morals, many of these people have had to leave the sport with nothing after a lifetime of hard work - some going through horrific financial turmoil."

Bringing the curtain down on her career, Cooke said: "I am now 29 so that's 17 years of my life I have enjoyed and now I am bringing to a close. I won every race and more than I dreamt I could win.

"You cannot believe how happy I am being able I stand here with my dreams fulfilled."

Read Nicole Cooke's full retirement statement at www.nicolecooke.com

17 user comments

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Nicole Cooke is a truly great rider. I hope, though, that she doesn't think life outside professional sport is any less compromised by the presence of arseholes. Bullies and cheats like Lance and Tyler, jobsworths like some at the UCI and BCF, and unreliable profiteers like certain of her former sponsors, exist in all walks of life. The difference is that you don't get to ride a bike in all sorts of exotic foreign locales in most careers. It sounds like she's glad to be getting out of the pro cycling world, although sadly if she did fancy a managerial position in a commercial or national cycling team, she'd probably be passed over for some man with a dubious past.

posted by ubercurmudgeon [168 posts]
14th January 2013 - 19:50

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So what team was she riding for as a 19-y-o Tour de France participant?

If I could have, say, 6 bikes, would it stop me drooling over others that I don't have?

posted by notfastenough [2945 posts]
14th January 2013 - 20:25

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notfastenough wrote:
So what team was she riding for as a 19-y-o Tour de France participant?

I don't know if this was a question of the way she said it and didn't mention that it was the female version of the TdF or just a general question of her team.

I believe it was Deia-Colnago, they raced out of the Ukraine I think Thinking

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posted by Gkam84 [8695 posts]
14th January 2013 - 20:36

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"I... have always remained true to the 12-year-old inside me."

Nice.

posted by Mat Brett [1819 posts]
14th January 2013 - 21:28

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Am I the only person feeling guilty for having bought Tyler Hamiltons book? Not just from hearing what Cooke had to say today but for a while now.

posted by AWP [69 posts]
14th January 2013 - 21:32

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The full statement from Nicole Cooke is now on her website. It's an absolute must-read.

http://www.nicolecooke.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&lay...

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7924 posts]
14th January 2013 - 22:54

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Gkam84 wrote:
notfastenough wrote:
So what team was she riding for as a 19-y-o Tour de France participant?

I don't know if this was a question of the way she said it and didn't mention that it was the female version of the TdF or just a general question of her team.

I believe it was Deia-Colnago, they raced out of the Ukraine I think Thinking

Just a question about a team encouraging doping, thanks for the answer.

If I could have, say, 6 bikes, would it stop me drooling over others that I don't have?

posted by notfastenough [2945 posts]
14th January 2013 - 23:57

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AWP wrote:
Am I the only person feeling guilty for having bought Tyler Hamiltons book? Not just from hearing what Cooke had to say today but for a while now.

I know what you mean, I fancy reading it but don't want to put money in his pocket! Maybe a charity shop will have a copy.

If I could have, say, 6 bikes, would it stop me drooling over others that I don't have?

posted by notfastenough [2945 posts]
15th January 2013 - 0:00

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Do read her full statement. Good for her. Spot on about cheats making money at the top and when they're down. A fantastic career and her double in 2008 really was an achievement that deserved more attention than it got. I hope she stays in cycling.

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1031 posts]
15th January 2013 - 0:28

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Nicole was a magnificent rider, and it's a cruel injustice that she is not a household name here in Blighty.

posted by airborneyellow [7 posts]
15th January 2013 - 9:34

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AWP wrote:
Am I the only person feeling guilty for having bought Tyler Hamiltons book? Not just from hearing what Cooke had to say today but for a while now.

I did read it and it is a good read.

Also I got it from a torrent site so not a penny went to Tyler Big Grin

posted by j4m1eb [21 posts]
15th January 2013 - 10:29

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Nicole is undoubtedly the best female cyclist this country has ever produced!! It's a shame she never got the real support she deserved.

Don't think she'll leave cycle sport altogether? One door closing and another opening (hopefully) in cycle sport

Well done Nicole; and thank you for all your dedication and achievements in the world of cycle racing, you brought pleasure to me; and many other supporters of your endevours. Thank-you

posted by Mostyn [400 posts]
15th January 2013 - 11:18

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I'm perfectly happy to have paid for Hamilton's book. I've paid for Walsh, Whittle, Kimmage, Voets and Millar as well.

I'll also buy Landis' upcoming bestseller "Floyd Fairness: Why my previous book wasn't strictly truthful but thanks for buying it anyway" and indeed Lance Armstrong's upcoming "It's Not About the Blood".

They're books, I buy them because they contain knowledge, not to support worthy authors. Rolling Eyes

posted by BigDummy [279 posts]
15th January 2013 - 12:21

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Mat Brett wrote:
"I... have always remained true to the 12-year-old inside me."

Nice.

Yep, this got me too.

I'm an advocate. She's a true champion. Congratulations on a great career.

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posted by mingmong [188 posts]
15th January 2013 - 13:15

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notfastenough wrote:
I fancy reading it but don't want to put money in his pocket! Maybe a charity shop will have a copy.

Shropshire library service has two copies. Check yours.

To those who have bought it - don't feel bad. Lend it out (on the condition that the borrower passes it on for free or that you have it back to do the same) or sell it on ebay and give the money to a worthwhile charity or http://www.onthedrops.cc/fanbackedwomensteam/

Quote:
"I don’t care. Honestly. And I mean that. I wake up and my mind and my conscience and my view on my life and my world, my future and my kids’ future is perfectly clear"

From http://road.cc/content/news/68569-lance-armstrong-says-conscience-clear-...

Edit: it seems Nicole's website has gone over its bandwidth quota. Surprise

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posted by Simon E [1909 posts]
15th January 2013 - 16:17

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MercuryOne wrote:
Do read her full statement. Good for her. Spot on about cheats making money at the top and when they're down. A fantastic career and her double in 2008 really was an achievement that deserved more attention than it got. I hope she stays in cycling.

Hear, hear. Very well written and clearly heartfelt.

Hope she stays in the sport, she seems to have a passion for the new talent pipeline, so perhaps after a couple of years away she'll be back in.

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

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posted by Gizmo_ [752 posts]
15th January 2013 - 16:51

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Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

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posted by Gizmo_ [752 posts]
15th January 2013 - 16:56

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