Generation game in women’s RR

Britain's Nicole Cooke is the big favourite for the women's road title on Sunday, but her main rival

Britain’s Nicole Cooke is the big favourite for the women’s road title on Sunday, but her main rival

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE It may sound trite, but at 45 Jeannie Longo is easily old enough to be Nicole Cooke’s mum. The pair are connected by their sport, however. They were the leading lights in the women’s road race at the world championships in Canada last autumn, yet neither of them won. This Sunday morning in central Athens, both the Frenchwoman and the Welshwoman – thwarted by their rivals in Hamilton – will, for different reasons, be brimming with ambition once more as they roll away from the start in the 118-kilometre Olympic women’s road race. This will be Cooke’s first Olympics and, probably, Longo’s last. Cooke is at the start of what seems likely to be an enormously successful career; Longo, who rode her first Olympics in 1984, is in the twilight years of a remarkable career that is unlikely ever to be matched. The self-styled ‘grande dame’ of cycling has been training at altitude in the Alps for her rendezvous in Athens. “I’ve climbed Alpe d’Huez, the Col du Granon and the Col du Noyer,” said the 45 year old from Grenoble. “These are intense efforts of 40-45 minutes, sometimes a bit less, that help you to work on your heart rate.” Cooke, meanwhile, has been based first in northern Italy, where temperatures, she says, have been in the high 30s for the past two weeks, and most recently, staying with friends in the Athens suburbs. “I’m happy with my preparation for the conditions in Athens,” Cooke says. “But it will be very hot and I have to be attentive, so I will be drinking loads.” The occasionally outspoken Longo, however, has not been overly impressed by the Athens course itself. “It’s hard but I don’t like it,” she said. “It’s a 13-kilometre criterium. To be at the front it’s going to be a fight for three hours.” While Longo savours her sixth Olympiad – “it means I have lasted well in the history of French sport” – Cooke is, even at just 21, anxious to make up for lost time, after the frustrations of missing out on Sydney four years ago. “I feel that there’s not much appreciation for the results I’ve achieved,” Cooke, winner of last month’s women’s Giro d’Italia, said. “I won the women’s equivalent of the Tour de France. Why jump on the American bandwagon when you have a British winner? That’s nothing against Lance Armstrong, but we should take pride in British success in cycling.” Women’s road race: 9 laps – 118.8km. Start time 15.00 local time