Nicole Cooke (MCipollini-Giordana) believes that she will benefit from riding as part of a strong trade team in 2011. The Welsh rider was left without a team last year when Equipe Nürnberger folded at the beginning of the season, and she competed in the colours of the British national team.
"It added extra difficulty," Cooke told Cyclingnews. "Instead of being on a team on the same level as the top teams, I was finding myself alone at the important end of the races. But I just had to do my best and then at the world championships when we were racing as the Great Britain team, I was able to do a really good ride there."
Cooke's 2010 campaign ended with that strong fourth-placed finish in Geelong and soon afterward she signed for the MCipollini-Giordana team. The squad includes Cooke's fellow ex-world champions Marta Bastianelli and Tatiana Guderzo, as well as double Italian champion Monia Baccaille.
"I'm really happy with the new team," Cooke said. "The way things are setting up is really good, especially heading towards the start of the European season."
Cooke explained that she and her squad will divide out their objectives over the course of the season. "The one day races will probably be my forte and then other girls like Guderzo are going more for the stage races like the Giro d'Italia," she said.
MCipollini-Giordana enjoyed success at the Ladies Tour of Qatar thanks to a stage win from Baccaille and Cooke herself was part of a dangerous move on the final day of racing. Although she was in Qatar to complement her winter training, Cooke came close to being part of the race-deciding breakaway that came in the wind on stage two.
"I made my way to the back of the echelon but then with the HTC and Garmin girls I wasn't actually able to get into the echelon and get that little bit of recovery and then I popped and went out the back," she explained.
"When I got back to the second group, it was mainly the Italian and the Lotto teams that were trying to close the gap but I think that you could just see the difference with the front girls was that they knew exactly what they were doing and were working very hard, while it was a bit disorganized behind."
Nonetheless, Cooke is pleased with how the three-day race went and is now building towards the season's major appointments.
"For me here this is a boost to my winter training, it's still only the first week of February," she said "But things are coming along nicely for me."
As the reigning Olympic road race champion, Cooke will obviously be hugely motivated for the London Olympics next year, but for now her thoughts are trained firmly on 2011.
"I've got my short-term goals for now and London is a long-term goal."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.