Nicole Cooke is one of the best cyclists Britain has ever produced. Currently the world’s top ranked woman road racer, she added this year’s World Cup to her many victories and is now setting her sights on next year’s World Championships and the 2008 Olympics. We asked you, the Cycling Plus readers and cyclingplus.co.uk forum users, what you’d like to ask Nicole, and we put your questions to her, along with our own. Here’s what the world’s best had to say…
At what age did you start cycling and what was your first bike like?
I was about four and had a strange fixed wheel bike with one front brake and solid tyres… when I was seven I had the chance to choose my next bike so I got a racer with dropped handlebars.
When did you start competing?
My first race was in 1994. I was 11.
What was the first event you won?
After a few months of racing I won the Welsh Under-12 Cyclo-Cross Champs, beating the boys.
If cycling wasn’t a career option, what would you like to have done?
I never considered other options because I knew I wanted to be a cyclist from a young age. In school I was interested in the sciences, law and journalism, so I could have been doing a variety of things if I was not racing.
When riding for GB has it been a problem finding the right team-mates to help you win?
I have to make the best of every situation. I have been fully supported by my team-mates in the past when riding for GB, which can’t be said for all of the national teams competing at World Champs. The team plays a role but the individual rider has to have the legs to win.
Do you feel you are more ‘marked’ in big events as a female cyclist than you would be in a men’s race?
No, I think riders in both pelotons assess and mark their main rivals. Perhaps the difference is the men’s races have more riders per team so it does not appear like a personal ‘head-to-head’ competition.
Which was more demanding physically, the Giro Donne or the Tour Feminine? (Matt Langridge, Marlow)
The Giro was hard mentally because it was all decided on the penultimate day, but the conditions at the Tour Feminine made it very draining day after day because it was scorching hot, more than 40 degrees, and 24km climbs are totally different to 11km climbs in the Giro.
On the podium you seemed happier with a bronze medal in this year’s Worlds in Salzburg than you did with a silver the year before – was there any reason for this?
The silver was just one place away from being World Champion and achieving my dream. The bronze this year was not even close.
Which cycling events do you feel you must win before you retire?
I’m aiming for the World Champs and the Olympic Games.
What needs to be done to get cycling in all its forms into the British mindset?
We need to build bike paths and encourage people to use them for commuting and short journeys. Lots of countries make great use of bike paths like Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Australia.
Do you think there are drug (performance enhancing) users in women’s cycling?
Yes. Some have been caught and some have been able to return to racing. I get all the supplementation to my diet that I need from the products of my sponsor EAS Energy. They’re doping-free guaranteed, they taste great, and really work to help you train harder, ride longer and faster. I struggle to see why performance-enhancing drugs are needed by athletes serious about their sport and health.
What music do you listen to on the turbo trainer?
It has to be upbeat, it ranges from Meatloaf and The Ark to Bon Jovi.
Please complete the following two sentences:
Golf is a costume change away from tiddleywinks but pro road cycling is… chariot racing without spears.
It would be great to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year but… winning the Olympics would be a dream come true.
Have you ever had any abuse from people in cars while out training?
Yes, although if I do talk to a driver about their lack of consideration for cyclists they are usually very apologetic. The majority of the time I tend to get a lot of support and encouragement when out training in South Wales from motorists if I’m stopped at traffic lights or I’m going up some of the hills.
Do you have a favourite climb or favourite route?
My favourite climb would be the Ghisallo, where I won the Giro in 2004. It starts with steep gradients up to 14 per cent, flattens in the middle section and then steepens back to 14 per cent for the final hairpin corners.
Your favourite bit of bike kit?
Carbon deep section wheels with brand new tubs ready to race.
What is your favourite film?
The Hannibal trilogy.
What is your favourite book?
I would never read a book twice so I don’t have a favourite.
Best clothing for woman cyclists?
A good fitting pair of shorts are the best items of clothing for any cyclist – and that depends on personal choice.
Are manufacturers meeting the needs of woman cyclists?
I think there is a lot on offer to women cyclists and it’s not just manufacturers but the bike shops and training camps too which are now catering for the female cyclist.
How do you feel about the cycling press’s coverage of women’s cycling? (Douglas Salmon, Sulaco)
There’s so much scope for improvement! A great start would be covering the main events on the women’s calendar, the World Cups and major Tours, and then getting to know the different stars and teams in the women’s peloton.
If you had children, would you encourage them to race ?
I would encourage them to ride for fun first and if they had the desire to race I would be fully supportive and try to help them progress as far as they would like to go.
What do you see as the key reasons for your success ?
I train hard but I was also able to learn very quickly when I was young by racing in Holland in Youth Tours against the boys from when I was 12 through to 16. It was a great experience and I think it gave me an advantage over those who started later in cycling.
What single change in the rules would make the biggest improvement in your racing ?
If every men’s Pro Tour race had a women’s Pro Tour race alongside it with matched TV air time and prize fund it would make a massive improvement. There are some races that currently run a men’s and women’s race together and I think the UCI should encourage more race organisers to follow this example.
Who are the most interesting or eccentric people you have met through cycling ?
Everyone involved in cycling has something interesting to say but I think I have met a couple of team managers who I would put in the ‘eccentric’ category!
How did you happen to live in Switzerland?
My team Univega-Lifeforce-Raleigh is based in Switzerland so I wanted to be based with my team and team-mates in the season.
What are the best things about living in Switzerland?
The mixture of beautiful scenery with so many mountains and lakes. It’s such a bonus when my ‘training ground’ is so picturesque!
Once the racing season is over, what’s your training schedule over the winter months?
October is my rest month – I’ll still ride but not structured training, and I’ll take a holiday. Training restarts in November with on and off-bike work, building through the winter to when racing restarts in February.
You’ve spent so much of your life competing at top levels – do you feel you’ve missed out on things your non-cycling friends do? (Helen Simmons, Norfolk)
Racing has given me so many amazing experiences that make me sure it was the right thing for me to do. I still spend a lot of time with my non-cycling friends and feel I’ve shared in their experiences too.
Which male rider do you most admire, or model yourself on? (Alan Harvey, Fleet)
There are similarities between Bettini’s riding style and my own but I try to make myself the best I can rather than just trying to follow someone else’s example.
What do you like to do when you’re not on your bike?
Put on some good music and relax, maybe even sing along too. Or I’ll meet up and go out with friends. If I’m somewhere interesting I’ll be a tourist.
Will a career in cycling be enough to set you up financially for life?
It is hard to give a simple answer as the women’s side of the sport is developing very quickly. The female riders at the top of the sport are able to make a good living but the earning potential is certainly not in the same league as that of the men’s peloton.
Have you thought about attempting the hour record?
It’s a huge challenge. My thinking is that until I have improved my time trialling skills to my full capabilities I won’t even consider it.
You probably have another 20 years of racing ahead of you if you want – do you think you will be hungry enough to maintain your motivation for that long?
I can only take each step one at a time. Right now I am motivated to continue racing at the best of my abilities but I can’t say what the future will bring in the coming years.
It’s probably a long way off, but do you have any plans or ambitions for when you finish racing?
I would like to have a family but regarding a career, I don’t know yet what I would like to do.
What are your goals for the coming 2007 season?
I’ll go for a full road season like 2006 including World Cups, tours and the World Championships.
What advice would you give a 16-year-old female cyclist who aspires to achieve what you have?
Aim to be the best; it is possible to achieve what you want if you work hard at it. And try to learn from mistakes or defeats as it will also make you a better rider.