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Somewhere over the rainbow

It’s easy to remember the achievements of the British Olympian and Paralympian cycling teams as a whole in Beijing. Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins, Rebecca Romero, Darren Kenny, Simon Richardson, Mark Bristow, Aileen McGlynn and Sarah Storey were perhaps the most notable successes in Beijing during a Games which brought Britain 14 Olympic and 20 Paralympic cycling medals. In all, across the various cycling disciplines (track, road, mountain and BMX), Team GB claimed gold in a staggering 25 (8 Olympic, 17 Paralympic) of the 62 events in Beijing: a success rate in excess of 40%.

However, in the euphoria surrounding the Beijing gold rush, it’s easy to forget the one who started it all off: Nicole Cooke.

At any other Olympics, Cooke’s gold medal – incidentally, the 200th gold won by Britain at the Olympics – would have received the kind of spotlight which was subsequently focussed predominantly on Chris Hoy and double gold-winning swimmer Rebecca Adlington. However, Nicole Cooke wasn’t a triple gold medallist like Hoy, or indeed a quadruple champion like Kenny. She didn’t have a great ‘angle’ like Romero, a medallist in two different sports (rowing and cycling), or the media profile of Wiggins or Mark Cavendish (four times a stage winner in July’s Tour de France).

Cooke’s misfortune was that she was just the first among many, a sparkling golden story which was soon drowned out by the glitter of so many others.

And yet there is a strong argument that she is the most consistently successful British cyclist of recent times. Over the past six years, her CV reads as impressively as that of any other British sportsperson, never mind just cyclists: in addition to this summer’s Olympic gold she can boast Commonwealth gold in 2002, wins in the women’s Giro d’Italia (2004) and Tour de France (2006 and 2007) and, prior to last weekend, three podium finishes in the women’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships.

I say prior to last weekend, because on Saturday the 25 year old Cooke added World Championship gold to her Olympic medal. As in the Olympic race, she produced an astute tactical performance, getting herself into the critical breakaway group of five riders and then conserving her efforts before nailing a telling sprint in the final 200 metres. While Marianne Vos, a former road race World Champion and also a Beijing gold medallist, wasted crucial energy attempting a late but futile solo break, Cooke was able to overhaul her in the final sprint for the line, just as she had done to Emma Johansson and Tatiana Guderzo in Beijing.

So, after three near misses in the past five years, Nicole Cooke has finally earned the right to wear the world champion’s rainbow jersey for the next twelve months. She is Britain’s first senior road world champion since Chris Boardman won the men’s time trial in 1994, and our first women’s champion in 26 years. And she is also the first female cyclist of any nationality to win the road race at both the Olympics and the World Championships in the same year.

While Nicole Cooke will probably never be the first, second or even third cyclist most Brits think of, she deserves notice for achieving what no other has ever done: finding the rainbow at the end of the pot of gold. Well done, Nicole!

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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