An email conversation with Nicole Cooke: 'A lot of the time it has been a voyage in the dark'

Blazing a trail for women's pro cycling; Making shortlist for personality prize; Camping out on the way to world titles


You had already won four World Championships before 2006, so when you were nominated as a finalist for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award, was it the right year? To be honest, I don't think I could have done things much better this year. In 2006 I've been world No 1 for six months, won the women's Tour de France, the World Cup series for a second time in three years, three World Cup races and a big stage race in Germany. Plus I got bronze medals in the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. In previous seasons I had some purple patches, like when I won the Women's Tour of Italy in 2004 or had a really good spring in 2005. But I've never had a year as consistently successful as 2006.

The previous time you went to the Sports Personality show the BBC used footage of a French cyclist while discussing your achievements, while last week you were given less time than most others on the short list. Do you get fed up with this lack of recognition? There have been times like when I thought I'd be better off doing a Martina Hingis and having a year out, particularly in 2004 and 2005 when I had bad knee injuries. But really, we are all in it for the love of the sport. So we stick with it. I've never thought about retirement yet.

What's the state of women's cycling? There are around 300 professional women cyclists in the world, but only about 45 to 50 actually break even. And only 10 or 15 of us do better than break even. In 2002 and 2003, if I hadn't had my grant from British Cycling's World Class Performance Plan, I would have lost out money-wise, because the team I was in [Deia-Pragma] stopped paying us after three months. It was that, or don't race. The top end of racing's OK, although even in the Tour de France it can be pretty rough for some riders. One day from this year sticks in my mind - after one of the smallest teams finished the morning's stage - I think it was the Chinese squad - their riders didn't make it to the next part of the race on time. The cars they were travelling in for the transfer were so old they couldn't drive fast enough to get there before we were supposed to start.

In the Tour de France this year, you rode 800km in seven days, and up 25km climbs like Mont Ventoux, where you won. Did you still have to stay in school dormitories between stages, as in the bad old days? You get to be prepared for anything when it comes to accommodation. This year there was one memorable World Cup race [120km long] where the organisation decided 14 teams taking part had to spend the previous night sleeping in a campsite.

How dedicated do you have to be to stay at the top? Put it like this: I have to ride my bike for anything up to 35 hours a week just as training, let alone racing, and do around 23,000km of riding a year. Living abroad, even if I do like it where I'm based now, in Switzerland, is an obligation because it's where all the racing and teams are. So dedication to cycling goes without saying, and as a consequence the hardest single thing to take as a professional is unfounded criticism. Some people don't appreciate the degree of dedication cycling takes, and then they criticise you. It makes me really angry.

Has it been a steep learning curve? In the sense that there wasn't anybody in British cycling whose example I could follow, then yes. A lot of the time it has been a voyage in the dark, making mistakes and doing things wrong because there hasn't been any older woman cyclist from the UK I could ring up and ask for advice. Plus there wasn't the infrastructure in the UK when I started. For example, back in 1997 there was no young rider national championships for women. Even now the men get treated differently by the British federation: they go on language courses before they go abroad, and have a nice house in Tuscany where they are looked after. Women have to do a lot more even to get that far.

Do you think in women's cycling it is much harder to succeed compared to men's? Of course.

Do you get frustrated, when women's cycling gets tarred with the same brush as men's cycling when it comes to the doping scandals that have hit the sport? No, not at all. The problem is that cycling's image has taken a real hammering because so many top male riders have been caught doing drugs. So the whole sport is tarnished. But women's cycling is such a low-budget sport the drugs problem just doesn't happen on the same scale. I think the rules should be tougher; there should be life-bans for first-time doping offenders. Sport is not like water or freedom, something everybody automatically should have a right to have. You want to play sport, you should play by the rules. You break them, you should be punished. The good news is that the scandals have not affected me directly. Women's cycling gets so little coverage anyway that we don't get much of a bad press, either.

Will you be coming back to see the [male] Tour de France when it comes to London next July? No, I'll be riding the women's Tour of Italy, I suppose. After all, the Tour's been to England before, hasn't it?

Becoming a male professional cyclist in the UK is unusual. Being a female professional cyclist is virtually unheard of. Did you get the support you needed from your family? Definitely. They are very sports-orientated, so I could count on them understanding it and saying, "Go for it", when I decided to turn pro. But getting inspiration and motivation to keep on racing when there were no reference points has been tough at times on a personal level. I've had to find it all out for myself, create a legacy.

You haven't felt any more pressure by being the first UK cyclist, male or female, to go so far? How could I? Being a woman cyclist and getting where I've got to is like building a rocket and going to the moon. If you're the first person to do it, there can't be any pressure, because there's no one to compare with. That's why I was so pleased to be nominated for the BBC Sports Personality Award, [the first cyclist since Tommy Simpson in the 1960s]. It means my achievements are finally being recognised.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker