Cooke eyes another major title

Britain's Nicole Cooke is on form and among the favourites for victory in Saturday's women's road ra

Britain's Nicole Cooke is on form and among the favourites for victory in Saturday's women's road ra
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Nicole Cooke is hoping to put the disappointment of missing out on a medal at the Olympic Games in Athens by taking her first senior world title in the women's road race on Saturday. Having spent most of the season recovering from a knee operation, Cooke returned to racing just before the Olympics with a stunning victory in the Giro d'Italia, but felt her recent lack of competition on the big day in Athens. Since then she has retained her T-Mobile International title in San Francisco, which is raced on a course almost as tough as the Worlds circuit in Verona, and ridden well at a five-day stage race in Tuscany. Still just 21, the Welshwoman faces strong opposition for the title. Lithuania's Edita Pucinskaite won the world title in Verona five years ago, and probably starts as the favourite to triumph over nine very tough laps of the 14.75km circuit. "Pucinskaite is the main favourite. She's in good form, she's one of the best climbers in the peloton and she also has the experience of winning the world title here in 1999," Cooke told AFP. "I don't particularly feel any pressure. The only real pressure comes from myself. The fact we only have four in the team doesn't affect me. I feel confident, and I'll just adapt my race accordingly." Australia's World Cup champion Oenone Wood is another rider tipped for the title, although she would thrive more on a less exacting course where her finishing speed would prove more of a factor. Wood's compatriot, Sara Carrigan, who took the Olympic title six weeks ago, is not riding in Verona, but Olympic silver medallist Judith Arndt is here and is on form. Another rider unlikely to start is two-time champion Suzanne Ljungskog of Sweden, who has been affected by illness.

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