By Fred Dreier

2008 Olympics - Women's Road Race - Cooke becomes the first Brit' to win Olympic gold in the road race.

2008 Olympics – Women’s Road Race – Cooke becomes the first Brit’ to win Olympic gold in the road race.

Photo: Graham Watson

Great Britain’s Nicole Cooke didn’t raise her arms in glory after uncorking a winning sprint at the end of Sunday’s rain soaked Olympic road race. The blonde Welshwoman, 25, instead let fly with an ear piercing shriek that echoed throughout the Juyongguan Pass area of China’s Great Wall.

“I just came over the line and there was so much in me; there were so many emotions that all came out at once,” said Cooke after taking the biggest win of her already decorated career. “I was not composed enough to take my hands off the handlebars. So much came out because that’s just the person I am.”

It was a slow start.

It was a slow start.

Photo: Graham Watson

Cooke’s winning kick came against four other riders who were part of a breakaway that rode away in waning minutes of the 126.4km road race. Emma Johansson of Sweden crossed the line in second, several bike lengths behind the Brit, with Tatiana Guderzo of Italy winning bronze. Christine Soeder of Austria, who led out the bunch, had to settle for fourth with Linda Serup of Denmark in fifth.

The victory marked milestones for Cooke, British cycling and the country of Wales. With her win Cooke became Britain’s first-ever female to claim gold in the sport of road cycling, and Wales’ first Olympic champion since 1972. And before the victory Cooke had taken four junior world titles and two World Cup overall titles, but had never won a major singe-day international championship. Cooke was fifth in Athens, and owns a drawer filled with world championship silver and bronze medals.

“I still don’t think it’s all sunk in yet,” she added. “I still feel like the normal old Nicole that I was before the start of the race.”

2008 Olympics - Women's Road Race - Canada's Wrubleski crashes on slick roads.

2008 Olympics – Women’s Road Race – Canada’s Wrubleski crashes on slick roads.

Photo: Graham Watson

Battling the cold?
Just a day after the elite men’s field faced sweltering temperatures and choking humidity, the women awoke to find Beijing doused with rain. Sunshine and heat greeted the women as the amassed at the Yongdingmen Gate starting line for the 2 p.m. rollout. But drops began falling as the peloton spun its way past Beijing’s historical landmarks, and intensified as the headed south toward Juyongguan Pass. A headwind blew through the ranks, and sprays of water kicked up from the spinning wheels.

“We were prepared for 40 degree [100 degree Fahrenheit] temperatures. We have these really light jerseys on,” said reigning Olympic champ Sarah Carrigan of Australia. “It was totally the opposite of what we were expecting.”

Conditions worsened as the riders entered the mountains south of Beijing, with rain falling in buckets, winds gusting through the canyons and temperatures falling into the low 50s. Many riders were smothered in coats and whisked away to warming tents once finishing. Kristin Armstrong, America’s top finisher in 25th place, crossed the line shivering and with blue lips.

“We came into today just thinking we would have to drink a lot and try to stay cool,” Armstrong said. “They gave us rain jackets and hot tea to try and stay warm. I’m really cold right now.”

Negative tactics and the break that could
A few riders attempted surges on the flat 78 kilometer journey to the mountainous finishing circuits up Badaling Pass, but the peloton was unwilling to let any breakaways get more than a few yards advantage. Olympic regulations limit teams to only three riders maximum, which means fewer bodies to use to pull back potential breakaways.

Thorburn tries to up the pace.

Thorburn tries to up the pace.

Photo: Graham Watson

“It was really negative racing on the way out,” said Canadian Erinne Willock. “It was kind of like a slow parade. I was really surprised how many riders made it to the top of the first climb.”

American Christine Thorburn, who was celebrating her 35th birthday, traded turns on the front with Kate Bates of Australia on the flats. As the peloton hit the lower slopes of the Badaling climb, Thorburn drilled the pace at the front, looking to soften the field. But as soon as the American stopped her effort, pint-sized Russian Natalia Boyarskaya sprung free. Boyarskaya, 25, climbed her way into a 1:15 advantage by the summit.

Thorburn, Brit Emma Pooley and Susanne Ljungskog of Sweden took turns on the front of the peloton to try and reel back the Russian. Thorburn pulled the peloton down the ensuing descent, and managed to chip 20 seconds out of Byarskaya’s lead. As the peloton swung into a chicane and through a toll booth, Canada’s Alex Wrubleski slipped on the wet paint and tumbled, dropping her chain and breaking her helmet in the process.

Burchenkova, Pooley and Guderzo.

Burchenkova, Pooley and Guderzo.

Photo: Graham Watson

As the group hit the base of the climb for the second and final climb, Pooley attacked with the Italian Guderzo to reel back the Russian. But the move brought Germany’s World Cup leader Judith Arndt to the front, and by the climb’s midpoint the field was intact.

American Amber Neben looked to be advancing through the group on the climb to launch an attack, but the Californian dropped her chain near the front, and watched the group roll away. That’s when Guderzo took another dig, and sprung away.

2008 Olympics - Women's Road Race - Neben powers on the climb.

2008 Olympics – Women’s Road Race – Neben powers on the climb.

Photo: Graham Watson

The winning move, however, didn’t roll off the front until after the 18-rider-strong group had crested the summit and begun the drop back to the finish line. Christine Soeder (Austria) put in a few strong pedal strokes on the downhill to draw Serup, Johannson and Cooke a few meters ahead of the group. Pre-race favorite Marianne Vos of the Netherlands watched in horror as the four simply rolled away.

“I saw the group breaking away but I was too far behind to react straight away,” Vos said. “But to be honest, there wasn’t much left in the legs.”

The four worked together to catch the Italian, and built a tenuous 15-second advantage as they steamed down the hillside. After passing under the toll booth for the final time, and making a right hand turn toward the uphill finish, the group knew they were clear. Soeder led out the sprint from 500 meters out but soon faded. Cooke, the fastest finisher of the five, went from 200 meters out, and held her advantage to the line.

2008 Olympics - Women's Road Race - Cooke creates a gap.

2008 Olympics – Women’s Road Race – Cooke creates a gap.

Photo: Graham Watson

After finishing, the Brit acknowledged that her victory came after a year of planning by her British team.

“Before the race we had a plan,” she said. “The way [Pooley] attacked, she was going for her own glory, but it put our team in a good position. I couldn’t wait to give her and [teammate] Sharon [Laws] a big hug.”

Nicole Cooke

Date of Birth: April 13, 1983
Height: 1.67m
Weight: 58kg
Nationality: Welsh

Principal wins
? British road champion (youngest ever winner)

? World junior road champion
? World junior road, time trial and mountain bike champion
? British champion
? British cyclocross champion

? Commonwealth Games road race champion
? British road champion

? World Cup series champion
? Amstel Gold Race
? Fleche Wallonne
? GP Plouay
? British champion
? GP San Francisco
? world championships road race – 3rd

Cooke emerged from a strong group to take the final kick to the finish.

Cooke emerged from a strong group to take the final kick to the finish.

Photo: Agence France Presse

? Giro Donne stage race plus one stage
? GP San Francisco/T Mobile International
? British road champion
? Giro Della Toscana plus one stage and points jersey

? Fleche Wallone
? GP Wallonie
? Trofeo Alfredo Binda
? Trofeo Citta di Rosignano
? British road race champion
? world championship road race – 2nd

? World Cup Series
? Fleche Wallone
? Castilla y Leon
? Tour de France(Grande Boucle Feminine) overall plus two stages
? Thuringen-Rundfahrt overall plus four stages
? world Championship road race – 3rd
? Commonwealth Games road race bronze
? British champion

? World Cup Series – 2nd
? Tour of Flanders
? Geelong World Cup Race
? Tour de France (Grande Boucle Feminine) overall and two stages
? British road champion
? Trofeo Alfredo Binda
? Trofeo Costa Etrusca

? Olympic road race

Photo Gallery


Women’s Olympic Road Race
Beijing, China. August 10, 2008

1. Nicole Cooke (Great Britain), 3:32:24 (35.7kph),
2. Emma Johansson (Sweden), same time),
3. Tatiana Guderzo (Italy),
4. Christiane Soeder (Austria), at 0:04
5. Linda Melanie Villumsen Serup (Denmark), at 0:09
6. Marianne Vos (Netherlands), at 0:21
7. Priska Doppmann (Switzerland), at 0:21
8. Paulina Brzezna (Poland), at 0:21
9. Edita Pucinskaite (Lithuania), at 0:21
10. Zulfiya Zabirova (Kazakhstan), at 0:21
11. Jolanta Polikeviciute (Lithuania), at 0:21
12. Yulia Martisova (Russia), at 0:21
13. Christel Ferrier Bruneau (France), at 0:21
14. Maryline Salvetat (France), at 0:21
15. Noemi Cantele (Italy), at 0:21
16. Gao Min (China), at 0:28
17. Leigh Hobson (Canada), at 0:28
18. Nicole Braendli (Switzerland), at 0:28
19. Anna Sanchis (Spain), at 0:28
20. Trixi Worrack (Germany), at 0:28
21. Susanne Ljungskog (Sweden), at 0:28
22. Yevgeniya Vysotska (Ukraine), at 0:31
23. Emma Pooley (Great Britain), at 0:31
24. Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (France), at 0:33
25. Kristin Armstrong (United States), at 0:43
26. Anita Valen de Vries (Norway), at 0:53
27. Modesta Vzesniauskaite (Lithuania), at 0:53
28. Joanne Kiesanowski (New Zealand), at 0:53
29. Oenone Wood (Australia), at 0:53
30. Grete Treier (Estonia), at 0:53
31. Miho Oki (Japan), at 0:53
32. Tetyana Stiajkina (Ukraine), at 0:53
33. Amber Neben (United States), at 0:53
34. Marissa van der Merwe (South Africa), at 0:53
35. Sharon Laws (Great Britain), at 0:53
36. Mirjam Melchers-van Poppel (Netherlands), at 0:53
37. Erinne Willock (Canada), at 0:59
38. Sara Carrigan (Australia), at 1:01
39. Hanka Kupfernagel (Germany), at 1:01
40. Natalia Boyarskaya (Russia), at 1:21
41. Judith Arndt (Germany), at 1:27
42. Oksana Kashchyshyna (Ukraine), at 1:49
43. Alexandra Burchenkova (Russia), at 4:08
44. Lieselot Decroix (Belgium), at 4:11
45. Alessandra Giusseppina Grassi (Mexico), at 4:11
46. Monika Schachl (Austria), at 4:13
47. Chantal Beltman (Netherlands), at 4:38
48. Meng Lang (China), at 5:18
49. Sigrid Teresa Corneo (Slovenia), at 7:05
50. Alexandra Wrubleski (Canada), at 7:12
51. Clemilda Silva (Brazil), at 8:37
52. Christine Thorburn (United States), at 8:44
53. Catherine Cheatley (New Zealand), at 8:44
54. Daniely del Valle Garcia Buitriago (Venezuela), at 11:01
55. Marta Vilajosana (Spain), at 11:01
56. Sara Mustonen (Sweden), at 11:01
57. Angie Sabrina Gonzalez Garcia (Venezuela), at 11:01
58. Gu Sun-Geun (Korea), at 13:35
59. Cherise Taylor (South Africa), at 16:09
60. Yumari Gonzalez (Cuba), at 19:15
61. Chanpeng Nontasin (Thailand), at 19:27
62. Aurelie Halbwachs (Mauritius), at 19:47

Did not finish
? Son Hee-Jung (Korea)
? Vera Carrara (Italy)
? Kate Bates (Australia)
? Jennifer Hohl (Switzerland)