Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) lined up for the defense of her world road title in Mendrisio with hope outweighing expectation. After what she admitted was a "difficult build-up", owing in part to a virus in July, the British rider was a shadow of the rider who completed the unique double of Olympic and world title just 12 months ago.
Reflecting afterwards on the loss of her title, after she abandoned the race with four of the nine laps remaining, she said that she realised as early as the first climb that it wasn't to be her day. "I knew on the first climb that I wasn't where I should be," she said. "I thought, right, [I'll] try and stay in there as long as I can, and maybe I'll get through this. But it wasn't to be.
"At the World Championships you have to be at your absolute best, but I was making the best of a very difficult build-up, especially the last couple of months.
"It was a very hard race on a hard course, and I wasn't in the form I needed to be in to have a chance," she said. "I knew over the past two months it'd be difficult, but I tried my best. I really wanted to be there and to know that I'd tried [to defend my title]. But I just wasn't in the condition to be up there. Overall, obviously my form wasn't great in the build up to the worlds. I knew that."
While the virus in July knocked Cooke for six, she also endured problems throughout the season with the team she launched on the back of her golden 2008 season. Vision 1 Racing Team struggled to attract a major sponsor, and the decision was taken to fold the squad a fortnight ago. Cooke admitted on Friday that this had been a "distraction," though she added that she has a new team for 2010 and will reveal her plans in the near future.
Of the 2009 season, she said there have been positives. "There are two elements to it. My results haven't been at the level they were last year, when 2008 was an absolutely brilliant season, and one I'm immensely proud of. All this year I got to wear the rainbow jersey, which was incredible and there were great moments. Now it's at an end. I'll still remember them, and look forward to coming back next year."