sport

Cooke quits with a parting shot

Nicole Cooke has attacked the inequality in cycling, drugs cheats and the world governing body after announcing an end to her 13-year career.

The 29-year-old from Swansea, who was the first cyclist, male or female, to win Olympic and world road race gold in the same year in 2008, announced her retirement in central London today.

"My time in the sport is finished," the 10-time British champion said. "I am very happy with my career.

"I have many, many happy memories over what has been my life's work since I was 12. I have won every race and more that I dreamed I could win."

Cooke was a trailblazer for cycling in Britain, particularly for women's racing. She encountered barriers along the way and it is her hope that women's racing will be embraced.

She also hopes the sport will rid itself of doping, a topic she felt compelled to speak about in a week when Lance Armstrong will be interviewed for the first time since being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for drugs offences.

"I have ridden through some of the darkest days of the sport in terms of corruption by the cheats and liars," Cooke added.

"I cannot change the era or time that I am born into. I am very proud that I have met the temptations head on and have not wavered in my honesty or sold my ideals.

"I have always ridden true to myself and placed my morals beyond a need to win. I have ridden clean throughout my career.

"When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward, just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances."

Cooke claimed she was offered "medicines" from a team campervan during her first Tour de France, aged 19. When she refused, she went without pay for the rest of the season, while in her first few days as a professional she had to clear a fridge of doping products.

There have been fewer incidents of doping in women's racing, but the impact of the Armstrong scandal and many others before it have been hugely costly, with teams and events lost due to lack of sponsorship.

"Every scandal on the men's side has caused sponsors to leave on the women's side," added Cooke, while deriding the "rewards" offered to male dopers.

"Tyler Hamilton (a former team-mate of Armstrong and whistle-blower) will make more money from his book describing how he cheated than Lyne Bessette (one of Cooke's former team-mates) or I will make in all our years of our honest labour.

"The situation requires the very basics of morality. Please don't reward people like Hamilton with money. There are many places infinitely more deserving than the filthy hands of Hamilton."

Despite the scourge of doping on her sport, Cooke enjoyed numerous successes.

She won Britain's first gold of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in teeming rain by the Great Wall of China. It was the first of eight gold medals for Britain's cyclists.

Four years on she was part of the team as Lizzie Armitstead won road race silver for Britain's first medal of London 2012.

Cooke had thought she could put an indifferent four years behind her and mount a defence of her title, but finished only 31st.

The time between Beijing and London was marked by a spat with Armitstead at the 2011 World Championships, when Cooke was accused of riding "for herself", rather than the team.

The duo put that behind them before again being team-mates at last summer's Olympics.

Armitstead was among the first to pay tribute to Cooke, writing on Twitter: "Congratulations to Nicole Cooke on a fantastic career!"

British Cycling president Brian Cookson said: "There is no doubt that Nicole has been a pioneering force in women's cycling.

"British Cycling owes a huge debt of gratitude to her and wish her all the best."