Nicole Cooke downplays world road chances

Brit still a threat, but lacks Olympic focus

The effort spent winning Olympic gold for Britain last month may have left Welshwoman Nicole Cooke short on ambition for the road race at the world championships in Varese, Italy tomorrow.

But that’s unlikely to dim her rivals' wariness of her capabilities in one of the few races that Cooke, arguably the biggest name in women's professional cycling, has come close to winning three times. She has won two bronze medals and a silver in the women's road race since 2003.

"I feel in pretty good shape, but for me the Olympic Games was always going to be my number one focus this year," Cooke said yesterday.

Nevertheless, the German, Dutch, Australian and Italian teams will still be taking a very serious approach to trying to succeed Italy's Marta Bastianelli.

Bastianelli is currently serving a doping ban handed down shortly before the Olympics. She blamed her chemist for preparing her a mix of herbs aimed at weight loss after testing positive for banned stimulant flenfluramina.

Germany's Judith Arndt is among the big names competing for the title, along with Marianne Vos and Oenone Wood, who missed out on Olympic glory in Beijing. Having picked up a surprise time trial bronze on Wednesday, Arndt is keen to get reacquainted with a crown she last won on Italian soil at Verona in 2004.

“I've had a lot of ups and downs this season, but I've been preparing specifically for the road race," said the German, who confirmed her form by securing the overall World Cup crown last week. "My form is very good, just like the other girls in the German team. We finished one and two last week in the Tour of Tuscany, so that's quite promising."

Vos, who won points race gold at the Beijing velodrome last month, is always a danger and has specifically avoided the time trial here in a bid to regain her 2006 world road race crown.

Tatiana Guderzo of Italy won road race bronze in Beijing behind Sweden's Emma Johansson and is likely to lead the hosts' glory bid ahead of compatriot Paolo Bettini's attempt to win a third consecutive title in the men's race on Sunday.

Arndt, however, says that the 138km race will be hard to predict. "I think the Italians will do well, and maybe the Dutch and hopefully Germany," she said. "But it's hard to say. I thought we would do well in Stuttgart last year and we didn't get anything."

Trixi Worrack was Germany's top finisher last year in 18th place.

© AFP 2008

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