Nicole Cooke is learning first how to treat those two impostors – disaster and triumph.
Disaster struck in the time trial and the mountain biking when the young Welshwoman could not rise above the mediocre; she shrugged off those setbacks to win the women's road race yesterday. But she has little time to revel in that first triumph at senior level.
Today the world junior champion starts the women's Tour de France in Holland. The most promising cyclist of her generation deserves a break – she is only 19.
Cooke dismisses the notion that her endeavours here have taken too much out of her. "I'm going there for a learning experience, really," she said before departing for 's-Hertogenbosch for the start of the Tour. "I don't have too many ambitions for myself. It should be quite a nice two weeks round France." Nice? It is a 2,000km, 15-day slog. As Cooke's tours go there must be easier ways of seeing France.
Cooke never looked like winning a medal in the time trial or the mountain biking, but her supporters came out in force for the road race and were rewarded when she timed her final sprint for the line to perfection. She edged out Canada's Susan Palmer-Komar, with England's Rachel Heal third. Heal was pleased just to be on the podium. "I've come an awful long way in the last year," she said. "It was a good result for the whole team today."
Scotland's Caroline Alexander, who had burst into tears when a flat tyre punctured her hopes of a gold in the mountain biking, was again left empty-handed as she faded in the final straight.
Cooke had stroke of luck in the misfortune that befell Australia's Margaret Hemsley, who crashed, breaking her collarbone, after making what could have been a decisive strike for gold on the final lap. The 30-year-old physiotherapist, who skidded on a downward turn, was no doubt aware of the extent of her injury but she battled on, eventually finishing 12th.
Hemsley's fall allowed the seven-strong group of Heal, the Canadian pairing Lyne Bessette and Palmer-Komar, Cooke, Australia's Hayley Rutherford, New Zealand's Roz Reekie-May and Alexander to make a bid for the lead. Alexander tried to escape but was caught by Cooke and Bessette. Cooke overshot a turn but was able to get back in contention as the lead group failed to press their advantage.
It seemed the Canadians would be able to work together to ensure one of them took the gold, but Cooke was sure that she could stay in contention. She said: "Throughout most of my racing I've always been the one rider against the others. It was just a case of keeping clear and trying not to use up too much energy." The experience served her well as she set herself up for the win.
The Welsh flags flew as Cooke was presented with her medal in front of a raucous crowd and, beaming all the while, she basked for five minutes in the adulation before turning her attention from Lancashire to the roads of Holland and France.
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