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Cooke’s Gold comes at the end of a long road

It took about 14 months for Nicole Cooke and the British cycling team to concoct a plan that would give her the best possible chance of winning an historic gold medal. But some would argue the 25-year-old Welshwoman has been preparing for an Olympic triumph all her life. Cooke on Sunday handed Britain its first gold of the Games and became the first Briton to win an Olympic road race when she beat Sweden's Emma Johansson to the finish line of the women's event here on Sunday.

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By Justin Davis – Agence France Presse

Just 25, Cooke nonetheless brought a career's worth of experience to Beijing.

Just 25, Cooke nonetheless brought a career’s worth of experience to Beijing.

Photo: Graham Watson

It took about 14 months for Nicole Cooke and the British cycling team to concoct a plan that would give her the best possible chance of winning an historic gold medal.

But some would argue the 25-year-old Welshwoman has been preparing for an Olympic triumph all her life.

Cooke on Sunday handed Britain its first gold of the Games and became the first Briton to win an Olympic road race when she beat Sweden’s Emma Johansson to the finish line of the women’s event here on Sunday.

It put to bed a long and often frustrating wait to have her formidable talents, which dominate the major one-day and stage races, recognized at world level.

After years of coaching guidance from her father, who was instrumental in pushing her into the sport, it was no surprise he was one of the first people she spoke to after standing atop the Olympic podium.

“I started cycling because of my family, we were always sporty. My mum and dad told me and my brother to do what we wanted, but to always do our best,” said Cooke.

“I’ve been talking to them and they’ve been very supportive this week, just as they have throughout my career. I just called them and it sounded like they had half the village in the house!”

Parties in Cooke’s home town of Wick in the Vale of Glamorgan – and around Wales – are likely to go on for days to come, and it’s no surprise.

The last time a Welsh athlete won an Olympic title was in 1972 when three-day eventer Richard Meade claimed double gold in Munich.

Despite not being allowed to compete at Sydney in 2000 because she was deemed too young at 17, Cooke always looked capable of ending Wales’s long wait.

A stunning 2003 season saw her go into the world championships as the big favorite, having won the World Cup overall series for the first time as well as a handful of big one-day races.

But in Hamilton, Canada, she took the bronze.

Cooke missed out on another major title when she finished a respectable fifth in Athens, and a year later, in 2005, she improved on her 2003 world championship finish by claiming silver in Madrid.

In 2006, Cooke had a superb season, winning the women’s version of the Tour de France (Grande Boucle Feminine) plus two stages, but again, at the worlds, she missed the top step of the podium.

Finishing third, it gave her a second major bronze medal after the one she won in the 2006 Commonwealth Games road race.

Cooke claimed her second overall World Cup title in 2007, when she again won the women’s Tour de France.

It was in May of last year that she began planning for Beijing.

Sharing out the plaudits to team-mates Emma Pooley and Sharon Laws, both of whom had their own roles to carry out in the rain-lashed 126 kilometer race towards the Great Wall of China, Cooke admitted they had studied every eventuality.

“Before the race we had a plan but our plan went back more than 12 months in terms of what we were going to do,” she said.

“We sat down with the British coaches and went over all the scenarios for the race. Sharon, Emma and I knew our best strength was to ride as a team.”

Cooke has been a success story since she first started racing as an 11-year-old. And although she has put in the leg work, Cooke was quick to praise all those who had helped her along the way to Olympic glory.

“I want to thank all the people who have been there from the start. I have worked so hard, I am so happy.”

Nicole Cooke

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

Principal wins
1999:
? British road champion (youngest ever winner)

2000:
? World junior road champion
2001:
? World junior road, time trial and mountain bike champion
? British champion
? British cyclocross champion

2002:
? Commonwealth Games road race champion
? British road champion

2003:
? World Cup series champion
? Amstel Gold Race
? Fleche Wallonne
? GP Plouay
? British champion
? GP San Francisco
? world championships road race – 3rd

2004:
? 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

2005:
? Fleche Wallone
? GP Wallonie
? Trofeo Alfredo Binda
? Trofeo Citta di Rosignano
? British road race champion
? world championship road race – 2nd

2006:
? 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

2007:
? 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

2008:
? Olympic road race