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By John Stevenson
Born: April 13, 1983
World junior road race champion
World junior road race champion
Favourite food: My mum's cooking
This year, British junior rider Nicole Cooke achieved a pair of remarkable firsts. 18 year-old Cooke from South Wales was the first rider to successfully defend the junior women's world championship road race, and also the first rider ever to win both road and mountain bike world championships in the same year. Throw in the world time trial championships too, and it's clear 2001 was a remarkable year for a remarkably talented young rider.
Cooke has been hailed as displaying a strength and maturity far beyond her years, and this comes across even with a mediocre phone line spanning half the planet in the way. She's calm, confident and smart, a far cry from the shallow teenagers of stereotype.
Cyclingnews: Of your four world championships in the last twelve months, which was the most satisfying?
Nicole Cooke: The first road race championship was the best, to be honest, because I'd had a disappointing year in terms of how my world championships had gone. I'd got third in the world mountain bike championships, which was a disappointment for me because I was in the lead in the first lap, then crashed twice on the second lap. My track world's didn't go as I'd hoped and then in the world's weekend in France I got tenth in the time trial, which was absolutely awful. So that Friday morning I really needed to win; I was desperate to win. So that was the best one.
CN: How about this year? It's as if everything fell into place for you in the second half of the year.
NC: It did, it all worked perfectly.
CN: You'd just done A-levels [the UK's 18+ exams that determine university entry], which is a lot of pressure in the middle of the year. At what point were you able to start training again after those?
NC: At the start of the year, I'd probably done a bit too much training. I did one of my A-levels a year early to give myself more time in the second year to concentrate on the other two and give myself more time for cycling as well. I think I got a bit carried away with the training and overdid it a bit. By June I was really in need of a rest. It worked out quite well that when I most needed to be revising and concentrating on my school work I was having a quiet time with my cycling.
Once the exams had finished, from July onwards, I was able to start getting back to normal cycling.
CN: And you went to the world mountain bike championships with virtually no preparation because the British countryside has been closed with foot and mouth disease all year.
NC: Where I live in South Wales there are mountain bike trails [that were open] nearby, so I was able to get out once a week, trying to fit it in with my schoolwork, trying to keep up my technique. But the mountain bike world's were at altitude so I had to get there quite soon, about two-and-a-half weeks before, and in that time I was able to tune up my mountain bike skills. So that worked out really well.
In terms of my first mountain bike race in such a long time, I was quite apprehensive going into the first technical section. I really wanted to get into it first, but I didn't, which was a bit unfortunate. I was able to hold the rider in front and it all went quite well.
CN: And by the time the world road race championships came round you were about as honed as you were ever going to get.
CN: You've ridden road, track cyclocross and mountain bikes. Is there a cycling discipline you haven't tried?
NC: BMX and speedway! I've had a big range of cycling disciplines that I've taken part in ever since I was 11 or 12 when I started cycling. I think that's been really good in terms of making me an all-round cyclist. It's good to try all the disciplines when you start off and specialise later on.
CN: How did you get into cycling?
NC: My dad and my uncle used to race when they were younger, and when I was younger we'd go on cycling holidays. We had two tandems and I'd go on one tandem with my mum, and my brother would go on the other with my dad. That was really good, and without any pressure of racing.
We'd always follow the Tour de France in the summer so even when I was 8 or 9 I knew about cycle racing. One time when we were on holiday we were reading Cycling magazine to see how the Tour was going and there was a local bit about Maindy track in Cardiff. I went down with my dad, with my mountain bike on the track and did a standing kilometer as my first race. I looked on the noticeboard in the café there, chose which club I wanted to join and went on from there.
CN: When did you start winning races?
NC: The first race I won was the Welsh under 12 cyclocross championships, about four months after getting into racing and that was beating all the boys! So I knew I was on to something pretty good then.
CN: Who have been your cycling heroes?
NC: When I was very little I wanted to be Robert Millar. When we followed the Tour de France he was best Brit, so it was 'OK, I'll follow him then.' But recently I haven't really had that many heroes or people I look up to. I've tended to set my own targets and go for what I want to do rather than think 'I want to be exactly like this person.'
CN: Who's influenced and looked after you as a racer?
NC: My dad. When I was 13 we sat down and thought what do I want to do with cycling and we decided that my dream was to win a string of world titles. It's mainly been my dad that's been the one guiding me to that.
CN: What direction do you think you will take over the next few years? Which discipline will you concentrate on?
NC: Road racing has always been my favourite, so I am definitely looking to concentrate on the road racing and get a career out of that. But mountain biking does make a change too.
CN: The step from junior to senior is a big one, especially in the women's ranks where there's no under 23 category as a buffer. Next year you're going to be up against Anna Millward, Genevieve Jeanson, Lyne Bessette… How do you feel about that?
NC: I've done some elite women's racing anyway. I've done two Tours of Quebec and they've gone quite well. This year I unfortunately crashed on the first day, but after that I really gave the racing everything. I got two seconds and a third, and also won the Queen of the mountains and Best Young Rider. [That crash put Nicole over ten minutes down on GC, but she eventually fought her way back to seventh Ed].
That was really good and it shows I'm not going to be totally out of my depth when I do move up. But perhaps the difference will be that instead of doing one big race like that in a year it'll be every weekend, and that difference will be quite important.
CN: What's your career plan for the next few years? Genevieve Jeanson, who's not quite two years older than you, is not yet riding the longer tours because she and her coaches feel she doesn't yet have the stamina. Are you going to concentrate on the shorter races?
NC: Definitely. I don't think the Hewlett Packard, the Tour Feminin or the women's Giro the two-week tours are perhaps the best thing for me next year. Definitely next year I'll concentrate on the one-week maximum tours and maybe the year after go for the two-week ones. I think I've still got quite a lot to learn as far as coping with the longer races.
2000 British National Championships
2000 GP Féminine International du Québec
2000 World Road Race Championship
2001 British National Cyclocross Championships
2001 British Women/Junior Road Championships
2001 GP Féminine International du Québec
2001 World MTB Championship
2001 World Time Trial Championship
2001 World Road Race Championship
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