By Ben Atkins in Varese, Italy
Nicole Cooke of Great Britain won the women's road race at the UCI World Road Championship in Varese, Italy, on Saturday. She took victory in a three-up sprint with 2006 champion Marianne Vos of the Netherlands and 2004 champion Judith Arndt of Germany.
Cooke added the rainbow jersey to the Olympic gold medal she won in Beijing last month, and became the first Briton to win a senior road rainbow jersey since Mandy Jones took the 1982 title in Goodwood, England. Cooke, Vos and Arndt were part of a break royale that formed on the final of eight laps that also included Emma Johansson of Swede and Trixi Worrack of Germany.
The five riders escaped under the impetus of an attack from Vos on the steep climb of via Montello with just over 15km to the finish, and were originally six until a puncture for Susanne Ljungskog ended her chances. There were several attacks in the closing stages particularly from Vos when she looked to have made a race-winning move on the final Ronchi climb and Johansson when a late attack looked to have taken the others unawares, but in the end it came down to a sprint and the Welshwoman proved to be the fastest.
"I am very, very happy," said Cooke after the race. "I am very happy following Beijing. When we started I was relaxed because I had met my objective with the Olympics. We had a nice team plan, it was not complicated, it was simple just to try to do our best. I saved all I had for the finish line and it worked.
"It is great to win and share the podium with great competitors," she added, paying tribute to Arndt and Vos.
"I have a lot of respect for all the riders here," said Cooke in response to a question about Vos in particular. "They are both [Arndt and Vos] former world champions."
Twice in the final lap Vos attacked, possibly casting herein the final sprint. Cooke seemed to deny that this was a mistake by the Dutchwoman though. "I think that she had shown she can win in climbs or win races in sprints," she said. "I was not surprised because the hills are a good place to attack. You can't take anything for granted... . I had to ride my own race. I had to react to her attacks the best I could."
"In the sprint Marianne started it I saw the orange jersey come back and just knew all I could do was get into the slipstream and keep going all the way to the line. I did not know what would happen but I just tried my best in the sprint."
In the past six weeks, Cooke has taken Olympic gold and now the rainbow jersey of World champion, something that even she is having trouble coming to terms with. "It was a dream come true in Beijing," she said, "and today as well. I don't think I've realised it yet, after the race it was very busy and there was a lot going on. I think I need some time to let it sink in."
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite women's World Championship road race.