Cycling: Cooke 'excited' by shift into professional gear

Nicole Cooke yesterday hailed the formation of a British professional team as "the biggest step forward in women's sport in this country for many, many years".

Twice a winner of the women's Tour de France and one of Britain's best hopes for Olympic success in Beijing this summer, Cooke, 24, leads a squad of 10 women and two men. They will ride bikes designed by Chris Boardman, a gold medallist in Barcelona in 1992. Dave Brailsford, the performance director of British cycling, will be the general manager.

"This will be the first-ever British professional women's team and I am very, very excited," Cooke said. "When I was younger, following my dream meant not being in Britain, but being based abroad – it certainly wasn't ideal. This is something I want to make the most of. I can train with my team-mates and, if I can help them to learn faster than I did, it will make for a very strong team."

Brailsford added: "There are 18 gold medals available in cycling in the Olympics and we have 13 realistic podium opportunities. For London 2012, we are aiming for 16 out of 18."