Olympic women's road race: Nicole Cooke gets it

First Brit to win road gold

Welshwoman Nicole Cooke handed Britain their first gold of the Beijing Olympic Games when she won the women's cycling road race on Sunday.

Sweden's Emma Johansson took the silver medal with Italian Tatiana Guderzo placing third for the bronze.

Cooke, 25, is one of the most successful road racers of modern times but came into the Games still looking for an elusive first major international crown. But she put an end to that agonising wait to put her talents in the world's shop window by holding off Johansson and Guderzo with a winning sprint on the uphill finish line of the 126km race.

"We did it. It was perfect, it's a dream come true," said Cooke, the first Welsh gold medallist at an Olympic Games since Richard Meade stood atop the podium in both the team and individual three-day event in 1972.

"I have worked so hard. I'm just so happy."

An eight-time British champion, junior world champion and two-time winner of the women's Tour de France, Cooke decided over a year ago it was time to concentrate fully on making up for her fifth place in Athens.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of team-mates Emma Pooley and Sharon Laws, Cooke was allowed the option of riding defensively on the rain-lashed course before making a decisive move near the end. It was a plan that was put together in methodical fashion.

"We made plans for this a little over 12 months ago and sat down as a kind of working group, going over all the scenarios for Beijing," said Cooke, who could hardly contain her joy. "It's just like a dream come true and I hope everyone can share in this dream. It's been a very long journey to get here, so many people have helped me and I really hope they have the same feelings as I do."

Marianne Vos of the Netherlands and Germany's Judith Arndt, who took silver in Athens, were among the big names who failed to fire during a race made trickier by the wet conditions.

"I was quite surprised about weather," said Johansson, who had been expecting heat and humidity. "Sometimes, I felt like I was drowning there was so much water on the road."

Vos finished in a group of riders 21 seconds behind, having missed the move which allowed a quintet, including Cooke, to go on an fight for the gold. Arndt finished over a minute off the pace, over 30 seconds behind Australia's top contender Oenone Wood.

A whole bunch of contenders, including Cooke, were caught napping when Guderzo flew off on her own with 13 kilometres to race on the final ascent of the nine-kilometre climb during the second and final lap of a 23.8km circuit. However on the flat section leading through the one kilometre long tunnel a quartet containing Cooke, Linda Melanie Villumsen Serup of Denmark, Austria's Christiane Soeder and Johansson closed the gap. They were given the edge by a lack of co-operation in the peloton 11 seconds behind them.

When it came to the 350 metre rise leading to the finish, Cooke was at the back of the leading quintet but pulled to the front just before the crest. Moments later she appeared, and then came over the finish line just ahead of Johansson, who admitted she had been expecting a tight finish.

"I knew it would be a good finish for me, although I knew both Nicole and Tatiana also had a good finish," said the Swede. I just tried to concentrate on my own finish and not worry about any other riders."

Guderzo very active throughout the day, could not in the end put her team's plan into action.

"Our team plan was to attack because we wanted to try to whittle down the field as much as possible so we could arrive at the finish line with as few riders as possible," said the Italian. "But I'm happy with bronze."

For race results and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.

© BikeRadar & AFP 2008

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