Lizzie Armitstead says Nicole Cooke wrong to focus on doping in Monday's parting shot

Olympic silver medallist insists cycling clean now and says focus on doping should be left in past

by Simon_MacMichael   January 16, 2013  

Nicole Cooke, Lizzie Armitstead, Lucy Martin, Emma Pooley (copyright

Lizzie Armitstead, winner of Team GB’s first medal at London 2012, has taken issue with Nicole Cooke’s slamming of drug cheats that the latter made as she announced her retirement on Monday.

"To me it's old news and should be left there," insisted Armitstead, speaking to BBC Sport.

She explained that while she could see why Cooke felt moved to hit out at drug cheats, she could “not understand the benefit of bringing it up".

"I just find it upsetting because the sport that I love, cycling, is clean now. My sport now is not that sport anymore.

"We shouldn't be adding fuel to the fire because for me, if I was a general member of the public and I saw someone in Nicole's position, at the top elite level of sport saying something like that, you're going to believe it."

On Monday, in a powerful retirement statement, Cooke, aged 29, who won both Olympic gold and the world championship road race in 2008, gave a damning critique of several aspects of the sport and revealed how she herself had been invited to dope but refused to do so.

She added that during her career, she felt she had “been robbed by drugs cheats” and maintained that she felt “despair that the sport will ever clean itself up when rewards of stealing are greater than riding clean.”

Armitstead was asked whether she, like Cooke, had ever been given the opportunity to dope and replied: "That's never happened to me, no."

She also criticised the black and white distinction that some make between the men’s and women’s side of the sport when it comes to doping.

"I've seen this kind of strange sexism being brought into the doping thing about how the women's side of sport is clean and the men's isn't," she explained.

"Well that's not true because I train with my boyfriend [BMC Racing’s Adam Blythe] every single day. I know that he's 100% clean and he wins men's bike races."

It’s not the first time that Armitstead has gone public with criticism of Cooke. Following the 2011 worlds road race in Copenhagen, the pair had a public falling out when Armitstead, Britain’s protected rider, accused Cooke of not waiting for her after a crash and riding her own race instead.

The pair subsequently settled their differences ahead of the Olympic road race last summer, where Armitstead finished second to Marianne Vos.

Describing Cooke as having enjoyed a “fantastic career,” Armitstead told the BBC: "She has been so dominant for so many years but in the last season I could see she was not perhaps the person she was.

"I think it's good for her to retire and move on to something new."

Armitstead’s views on doping are reflective of those of a number of younger British riders, many of whom have come up through the British Cycling system, with its strong emphasis on anti-doping education, and who insist that the sport has changed.

The fact that the system seeks to insulate them from the circumstances that past generations found themselves in, having to head to the continent to work their way into the pro ranks, doesn't of course mean that doping has disappeared.

The two women's conflicting viewss are also a reflection of the very different paths they took into the sport, with Cooke’s parting message detailing at length the lack of co-operation and help she believes she received from British Cycling as a youngster, in stark contrast to what has been provided to those who have followed her into cycling.

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It seems that British Cycling really do insulate their development riders from the drugs issue, but I really think it's to their detriment, as at best you could say they really don't seem to appreciate the way most outsiders and cycle sports enthusiasts regard the issue.

The sport's not clean; it's not the only one, but saying "these issues are in the past'" simply won't wash. It makes them seem naive, evasive and agressive. Which in turn starts to cast suspicion, warranted or not.

Is this because they spend most of their time on the track, and in a track environment? Do they not see what goes on in road racing?

posted by thereandbackagain [159 posts]
16th January 2013 - 17:56


Cleaner, yes, but clean? Very unlikely.

Ironically, saying that doping "is in the past" probably does more to lower the sport of cycling in the public's eyes than anything else.

As for...

"Well that's not true because I train with my boyfriend [BMC Racing’s Adam Blythe] every single day. I know that he's 100% clean and he wins men's bike races."

The logic behind this statement is completely lost on me...

posted by jackh [118 posts]
16th January 2013 - 18:07


I agree Jackh. Couldn't have put it better myself.

At best she is naive, at worst a cheat herself.

Rarely has a cyclist (that has never been caught doping) readily admitted the drug use in the sport in an open and frank manner. So Armitstead is in no way being reassuring. It saddens me that she has said this at all.

I think people would on there own have discounted Cooke's views as it is not like she is standing up and accusing any current cyclist of cheating. Just that cheats hurt cycling....and they do.

I also think that Cooke's parting shot was also spineless. She criticised Hamilton (Hamilton is not proud of what he did, but I think there is a lot of value in him coming clean, like Miller). But yet she has not actually come out and pointed the finger at any current rider. Is she not protecting the Omerta if she believes cheating to have continued?

The conspiricist in me wonders if the issue isn't a particularly personal parting shot between Armitstead and Cooke - that Cooke walks away 'clean' and leaves the insinuation over her 'much loved' team mate, with the nagging doubt of the truth. Armitstead knows this and rises to the bait.

Chances are that journos have just pestered Armitstead until she snapped back in a slightly foolish way.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1625 posts]
16th January 2013 - 18:36


Oh dear.

I like Lizzie, but she's really made a fool of herself here.

The doping issue is all over the news (for obvious reasons) at the moment, so it's not exactly consigned to history now is it?

This comes across as exactly what it is - any excuse to counter whatever Nicole said. Problem is - Nicole is spot on. Lizzie is not.

Cycling as an Olympic sport is under threat. Sponsors harder and harder to find due to doping fallout. Plenty of names still being thrown up in doping investigations and tests (though granted, less than before).

But sure - doping's not an issue anymore. Idiot.

posted by Lacticlegs [124 posts]
16th January 2013 - 18:37


Armitstead's comments on doping lack any wit or wisdom.
I suppose there's no reason to think cyclists would be any brighter than others pro sports people when asked for a comment.

posted by festival [106 posts]
16th January 2013 - 18:41


Chances are that journos have just pestered Armitstead until she snapped back in a slightly foolish way.

I think you're probably right Colin - at least I hope so since I'd prefer not to think that Lizzie came up with something this brain-dead (and bitchy) on her own...

posted by Lacticlegs [124 posts]
16th January 2013 - 18:43


To be fair after a hard training ride I can barely function let alone properly consider the ramifications of the things I said. I will give her some sugar depleted leeway on this....I'm sure she's learning her lesson right now!

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1625 posts]
16th January 2013 - 18:50


Also true.

Besides - these two have been handbags-at-dawn for quite a while now so probably not easy to step back and see the bigger picture.

Almost any comment made by either of them is carefully perused for any implicit insult to the other...whether it exists or not.

And anyway - she's cute. Extra leeway all over the place. Wink

posted by Lacticlegs [124 posts]
16th January 2013 - 18:57


Armitstead raises some very valid points. The doping stuff that is in the news at the moment *is* in the past. It is being sorted out finally, but it is news from the past. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it's a much cleaner sport nowadays. There will be some going on, for sure, just as in any sport. I'd wager that cycling is cleaner than football, for starters.

Slightly naive wording/timing, but absolutely correct.

posted by andyp [1371 posts]
16th January 2013 - 20:36


I have to agree with Lizzie.
If everyone dropped it the so called bad image wouldn't be there.
Just who has made the public ( who don't care a toss anyway) aware of doping?
The press.
The anti doping movement is there anyway. Why keep dragging things to the top of the heap. Personally I regarded Cooke's rant as a cheap way to go out with a bang. A star like she is should go with dignity not sour grapes.

posted by mattsccm [316 posts]
16th January 2013 - 21:08


Seems to me that any "answer" to any "question" about doping is the "wrong" answer to someone.

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [264 posts]
16th January 2013 - 21:49


mattsccm wrote:
If everyone dropped it the so called bad image wouldn't be there.

Utter bollocks. Look up Omertà.

mattsccm wrote:
A star like she is should go with dignity not sour grapes.

It's funny, I see dignity rather than sour grapes in what she said. She talked about a number of things but a lot of people focus solely on the doping. The way I understood it she's saying that the sport is not yet mended; there have been, and still are, issues and she didn't want to brush them under the carpet.

I don't blame her for having a beef with Hamilton, who made lots of money by cheating and now making more from telling the truth about their dishonesty, while others, notably women like herself, struggle to get paid. I can fully understand why she's saying what she is and applaud her for doing so.

However, a lot of it is actually quite positive and, I felt, very thoughtful. She's not had an easy ride of it and is looking back at a great career with her own unique perspective.

Lizzie's comments weren't needed and, to me, don't do her any favours. If the two of them had not properly 'kissed & made up' after Copenhagen there's nothing to be gained by sticking the knife in quite so publicly now. Cooke's had very different experiences and isn't necessarily "wrong". Irrelevant comment about Blythe too. What does it prove? Nothing.

Still, the world would be a boring place if we all agreed about everything Smile

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2422 posts]
16th January 2013 - 23:49


bikecellar wrote:
Seems to me that any "answer" to any "question" about doping is the "wrong" answer to someone.

This, this and more of this. If I was a pro bike rider, yes I would expect to have to talk about doping a bit, but they get it all the time. These guys are squeezing media work in between training, massages, meals, sponsor work, settling into their new team etc etc and I think they'd just appreciate questions that are worth asking. It's dicking rifuculous how (here, the cav/wiggo story etc) every little word uttered by people never slightly implicated in nefarious practises is being over-analysed for any little clue of dodginess.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3724 posts]
16th January 2013 - 23:56


Sorry Lizzie, you're deluded. Just look at last years Vuelta....

posted by Clenbutador [15 posts]
17th January 2013 - 10:01


I think she felt obliged to say something by the press and against Cooke. Hard to see cycling becoming dope free but I do see it becoming a very small piece of the sport from this point on. Current events are impossible to ignore nor drive change, we shall see after tomorrow anyway.

Ah, but that was then

posted by Pitstone Peddler [104 posts]
17th January 2013 - 10:32


I read the interview in the Guardian and think Nicole Cooke's comments were justified. Her point about her having thrown out all the drugs she found in the fridge and how nobody was prepared to own up is rather enlightening.


posted by OldRidgeback [2589 posts]
17th January 2013 - 10:55


It's a sign of the higher profile cycling now enjoys that there is more reporting of it in the mainstream press and more attention given to riders at all levels. Press coverage is good for the sport BUT,BUT,BUT it has to be handled well. The days when cyclists in the public eye could sound off, confident that no one gave a toss are over. I'd prescribe media training all-round for Britain's cycling super-stars and better media advice generally. Cav might need tranquilisters as well!

posted by LeDomestique [34 posts]
17th January 2013 - 11:41


Funny. BC may be able to insulate their riders against people injecting stuff into them, but they might want to invest in a teeny bit more PR training.

Cooke - like Millar and Wiggo - fought their way to the top in the dark times. Armitstead has come to the top in lighter times, and perhaps she hasn't had the same exposure. If you're clean yourself, and you haven't seen evidence of your competitors doing 'superhuman' things, the simplest thing to do is assume that everyone's clean. But it doesn't make it so.

Also - if she's training every day with Blythe, is she as good as a male rider, or is he only as good as a female one?

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

Gizmo_'s picture

posted by Gizmo_ [1255 posts]
17th January 2013 - 12:08


@Simon E:

"mattsccm wrote:
If everyone dropped it the so called bad image wouldn't be there.
Utter bollocks. Look up Omertà."

Couldn't agree more. This isn't about PR, mattsccm, it's about how sport actually functions and why it can be so good, so valuable and so intriguing.

I thought Cooke's interview was one of the most forceful to have come out post-USADA and really hit the nail on the head about the real damage that the likes of Armstrong have done. Forget f#cking Nike and Trek etc, so many actual people have had their livelihoods taken away or denied them by what Armstrong perpetrated. Armistead is just making herself look silly with the 'time to move on, it's as clean and pure as driven snow, my boyfriend blah blah blah' mantra. Get out of your bubble, girl.

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
17th January 2013 - 14:41


That be the difference between a woman (Nicole) and a girl (Lizzie) purely from the standpoint of emotional and intellectual maturity. Lizzie clearly is still absorbed by her own career and her thoughts on its possible failings, mainly not getting the Beijing gold. Whilst Nicole sees the bigger picture. I just wish some of male pro's Nicole's bollox to say it how it is.

To slo to live, to slo to die! ::-}

posted by OldnSlo [132 posts]
18th January 2013 - 0:52


Armistead's an idiot, Nicole has every right to comment about other riders particularly cheating dopers like LA. Good on yer Nicole .....

posted by Karbon Kev [683 posts]
18th January 2013 - 22:50


Armistead's wrong to suggest that Cooke's piece harms cycling. She needs to wake up. There is no such thing as old news with doping. It's always evolving and it's always going to be there.

Armistead's not naive. I think she's just afraid to step outside her cocoon and contemplate the fact that doping is still with us.

Unfortunately she'll learn.

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

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1225 posts]
19th January 2013 - 0:47


Karbon Kev wrote:
Armistead's an idiot

The "Internet Experts" are at it as usual with their sweeping statements Yawn

If all it takes to have the success Lizzie's had, including an Olympic Medal, is to be an "idiot" I should have been a World Champion several times over by now Big Grin

posted by BikerBob [116 posts]
19th January 2013 - 10:58