It was a moment of unbridled emotion for Great Britain's Nicole Cooke as she crossed the line in Beijing on Sunday. The Welsh rider let out a primal roar after out-sprinting Sweden's Emma Johansson and Tatiana Guderzo (Italy) to achieve her one and only goal for the season: an Olympic gold medal.
Her war cry might have been the release of tension built up during years of preparation for this moment, and many disappointments along the way which included a knee injury at the end of the 2007 which dashed her hopes of winning the UCI World Cup. She had pinned all of her efforts on one race – the Olympic road race – and came through with the goods on a day where extreme weather could have easily ruined any of the best plans with a crash or ill-timed puncture.
Cooke's final kilometre looked like it had the makings of disaster when she momentarily lost contact with the group of five other riders who held a solid 20 second lead over the peloton. But what appeared to be a possible mechanical or fearful braking in a sodden downhill turn was actually a calculated easing up in case a rider in front fell down.
"Coming into the finish, we told her to lay off before the bend and stay on the inside, in case anyone fell," said Team GB manager Julian Winn, according Cycling Weekly. "That was the only thing we were nervous about."
On the morning of Sunday's road race in Beijing, the skies were gloomy and a light rain began to fall – perfect conditions for a rider who hails from a country which sees its fair share of wet days.
But by the time the race entered the final circuit, the skies had opened up into a full on downpour, making for a dangerous trip down the fast descent. Cooke and her selfless British team-mates, Sharon Laws and Emma Pooley, hatched a plan early in the year to win the race, and as is evident by the results sheet, it worked to perfection, despite Laws going down in a crash earlier in the race.
"Before the race we had a plan – a plan that went back twelve months – in terms of what we wanted to do today," she explained. "Sharon, Emma and I all knew we were good riders but our best chance of success was to ride as a team; it's an important part of the race. When Emma attacked she was going for her own glory, but it also allowed me to ride defensively, it allowed me to save myself and to put the other teams on the back foot and me in a good position.
"So I blocked for her and then she blocked for me in the end, I think as a team we rode a fantastic race."
Cooke will now get a chance at a second gold medal, as she and Pooley will take on Wednesday's time trial.
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