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British Champion is winning again


The Podium at the Trofeo Citta di Rosignano. (left to right Brändli, Cooke and Vzesniauskaite)

This winter has been a busy one for the five time National road champion. Apart from riding the Track and a couple of cyclo cross events she has been back on her mountain bike and training with the British team in Cyprus. After last winter’s injury problems and the difficulties that presented in preparing properly for the Olympic Games and World Championships – Nicole has become determined to make sure she puts in place a back up team to help her extend her impressive palmares.

Meeting of minds
Nicole has also spent time this winter with sports scientists and physiotherapists at the English Institute of Sport in Bath. They have helped to put together an extensive ‘off the bike’ training plan to complement her riding. However the big news behind the scenes has to be the arrival of World Hour Record holder Chris Boardman.

In an on-going arrangement the former Olympic Champion and Tour de France stage winner will provide a different persepctive on Nicole’s training in the coming months.

“It will be good to have someone with so much experience and knowledge to give me their input into my planning,” she points out. “I’ve always worked out my training schedule and race preparation with my father (Tony) who’ll continue to be my coach. Obviously my team in Italy have their views too. It will be good to have a another opinion from someone who’s a little removed from me. Chris will be a performance advisor, a sounding board to help agree on the best training programme.”

For Boardman’s part he’s always been impressed by Nicole’s raw talent and competitive attitude, but thinks there’s more to winning than just going out and racing. Speaking about the arrangement on www.nicolecooke.com he said:

“That approach doesn’t get the form on the day when she needs it. She can’t just turn it on and off. Nicole was a bit uncomfortable with it at first, with me telling her she can’t do this or that. But I’m brutally honest, and tell people what they don’t want to hear. That way they either accept it or they don’t, but I think they respect it.”

Back to pounding the pavement…
The first big Italian road race for Nicole was a 110km hilly one, starting with a series of laps followed by four hills with the finish at the top of the final climb. Nicole won it in the final 100 metres beating Nicole Brandli and former team mate Modesta Vzesniauskaite. Below is Nicole’s personal report on the race. Taken from www.nicolecooke.com. The way she explains this race is clearly a sign that not only will she win many more races but there will be a job as a Directeur Sportif when she’s retired!

“There is always a unique atmosphere on the start line of the first race of the season. There are all my friends in the peloton who I have not seen over the winter and want to catch up with, and then making a mental note of all the new team kit and what riders are riding in which team takes a bit of time to sink in.”

“There is also no way of knowing how my rivals are going in relation to me, and this can make things very exciting. My team has been training together in Follonica since Thursday. We have really used the time well to get to know the new faces and prepare for the season and this really showed in the race today.”

“Right from the start, the young riders who knew they may not be there to help at the finish were doing all they could to help during the first half of the race before the hills started. There were a few tentative attacks, but no one was able to make
any significant breaks.”

“The hills started and the guard changed… Giussepine Grassi and Zita Urbonaite took over marshalling the moves at the front while I checked out my rivals. Bubnenkova made strong attacks to take the Mountain primes and looked to be going well along with Nicole Brandli. There was also a very dangerous Nuernberger duo of Oenone Wood and Regina Schleicher.
After the penultlimate climb there was 15km of flat roads and then the 5km hill to the finish. Here the pace was fast with lots of attacks and Mountain Bike legend Gunn-Rita Dahle and Italian Anna Zugno took a big role in keeping the bunch together while I prepared myself for the finish.”

“We hit the final climb and I was well positioned near the front. Schleicher kept the pace high for a while before Brandli made an exploratory attack, this raised the pace for a while but as the speed dropped I called on Anna Zugno to set the pace. She did a great job from 3km out giving it everything she had.”

“This worked well but with 1km to go there was still a lot of riders there ready to contest the finish. Amber Neben made a hard attack inside the last kilometre and going round the final curve with about 300m to go Brandli and I both made our move at the same time… Brandli on the outside of Neben, and me on the inside… I tucked in behind Brandli and behind we both heard the crash of bikes.. there had been a fall on the last corner and we now had a gap on the rest of the bunch.”

Brandli was going hard but I didn’t want to go too soon… I could see a rider closing on us and decided to make my move with 150m to go. I got a gap on Brandli and held it to the line. It was a very hard finish but a great way to end an incredible race for the whole of my team.”

Training will continue this week in our base for the week in Follonica, Tuscany before we travel to Varazze on Friday for our next race, the Primavera Rosa World Cup.

Hitting the dirt
Nicole is currently including off road sessions in her training programme with a view to entering some Mountain Bike Races during 2005. As she explains on www.nicolecooke.com it’s not going to all about the road World Cup races this year:

“I haven’t fully worked out my programme for next [this] year yet. Road Racing will still be the main focus of course but I do want to do some off roading leading up to the Commonwealths in 2006 and beyond.” she explains.

“It’s fun being back on my mountain bike, I really, really love it.”

“When I first started cycling I did mountain biking races all the way through to the world championships. The last race I had was my Gold medal in Colorado in 2001!”

And there is no-end to the talented Welsh woman’s list of skills as she has also been riding on the track this winter.

“Having the velodrome so close at Newport whilst I’m back in Wales has provided a different work out, and it was great to ride Revolution,” she points out.

“But road racing and cross country mountain biking compliment each other better from a preparation and physical point of view. It’s just a case of spending some time off road.”

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