15 January 2013

Cooke hits out at Armstrong and UCI

When she won the road race title in the shadow of the Great Wall of China in the 2008 Olympics she won Britain's 200th Gold Medal in the modern Olympic era. But she also became the first woman to win both the World and Olympic titles in the same year.

Cooke racing up Mount Ventoux on her way to one dream
Yesterday she announced her retirement from the sport at the age of 29, after 17 years of competitive racing. In her statement yesterday she recalls how after beating the boys in the Welsh cyclo cross championships when just twelve telling the television reporter that she wanted one day to win the Tour de France and Olympic Road Race. But as she recounts from that time on the opportunities for girls were limited and indeed there was no set up for girls within British Cycling at the time, this make the achievements of people like Cooke and Victoria Pendleton all the more exceptional.

Two years later she was denied the chance to compete against the senior women in the grass track 800m British Championship, even though it was arranged by Pendleton's father, the British Cycling Federation would not let her compete against the women. But in the non-championship Omnium there was the handicap 800m. The handicapper made her go off scratch against the British Champion and crossed the line first, it led to the BCF introducing girls age group events the following year after Cooke's father wrote to them demanding it.

After turning sixteen although still in the youth category, she could compete in the juniors, but if there was no equivalent junior event she could race up in the seniors. Thus it was that at 16 she won the first of her British titles as there was no junior event at the time.

This was the build up to the career that Cooke would end up having from 2002-2012 as a professional in the women's peleton. It was here that Cooke turned her attention to the issue of drug cheats.

How in one team house she stayed in the fridge was full of medicines, but how she took them all outside and told the fellow pros she was staying with either the drugs went or she did, the drugs went. She told how during one race she was actually asked openly what medicines she would take to help her recover.

She then went on the tell the story of Canadian Cyclist Genevieve Jeanson:

She was the Canadian superstar, a national icon. She never tested positive. She missed a drugs test when she beat me and received a meaningless fine as a consequence. She exceeded the 50% Hematocrit level and the authorities acted in line with their legislation and imposed a "health rest" on her.

Second fiddle to Jeanson during this time in Canada was a rider with morals called Lyne Bessette. Nobody can give back to Lyne Bessette or I the wins Jeanson stole from us. Throughout her career Jeanson repeatedly lied, just like Lance and yet now, she confesses that she had been on an extensive doping program since she was 16. The full story only came out, via quality investigative journalism.

Jeanson states, like all the others, she is "repentant" and all that is behind her. All these "born again" champions of a clean sport. They could be more accurately described as criminals who stole other's livelihoods who are only ever genuinely sorry about one thing — they are very sorry they were caught.

Olympic Champion in Beijing
She goes on to point out in a sport where the men get all the financing, her own team Vision 1 Cycling folded in 2009 after less than a year in existence, that Tyler Hamilton has made more from "his book [The Secret Race] describing how he cheated than Bessette or I will make in all our years of our honest labour."

She goes on to point out that over the past ten years the UCI have been doing all they can to defend Lance Armstrong, including taking legal action against whistle blower Paul Kimmage and Floyd Landis after he was caught himself for calling Lance a liar. However, in the same time female races have suffered gone are the women's Milan San Remo, the Amstel Gold Race, Tour de L'Aude, Tour Midi Pyrenees, and Tour Castel de Leon. No HP tour in America.

No Tours in Australia, New Zealand or Canada. Instead of a two-week Tour de France we have nothing. Also for the women just the day after the Paul Smith designed jersey for the men's race there is no route and no organiser for the Giro d'Italia Femminile for 2013, an event Cooke won in 2004.

The point being made is clear, the UCI for the past decade have spent more time protecting the honour of themselves and the god-like, now fallen image, of a certain American rather than giving women racers the opportunity. As we saw in the women's Olympic road race in London last year there is plenty of excitement there, but so many were uncertain about their future in the sport.

Unlike one tainted Tour de France champion first to cross the line the current champion has given back and to the women's sport, by establishing a team. It is time for the UCI to give back and give them something to race for that is equivalent to the men.

Cooke may have retired from racing, having achieved those 12-year-olds dreams, Gold in 2008 and the Grande Boucle (women's Tour de France) twice in 2006 and 2007. I hope that maybe she will take on a directeur sportif role with Dream Team Pro Cycling or something, she is the ideal person to take on such a role to work to enhance women's road racing.

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