Anorak | Lance Armstrong v Nicole Cook: pick your expert

Lance Armstrong v Nicole Cook: pick your expert

by | 19th, January 2013

NICOLE Cooke is a former  Olympic cycling champion from Wick in the Vale of Glamorgan. She’s retired from her sport. Her leaving speech is repeated in full hereunder. It’s worth a read, particularly her views on sexism and Lance Armstrong.

She answers our question: If everyone is cheating, what’s the big deal?

C. B. Fry put it:

“It is widely acknowledged that if both sides agree to cheat, cheating is fair.”

So. If everyone is cheating, the playing field is levelled. Armstrong competed, and he won. He’s the best. He never cheated in his sport. He cheated us, the masses who wanted a hero. He gave us one. Part of his legend is that he beat cancer. He used drugs to do it drugs, luck, experts and a rock-hard mentality. Four ingredients that let him with seven Tour De France titles.

That Armstrong beat cancer alone is a myth. Cancer is not something you can defeat by practicing and talent. That he won his cycling titles alone is another myth.

Can human growth hormone fight cancer? If it could, and had Armstong taken it to beat his illness, would he be a cheat?

Here’s Nicole Cook :

Thank you all for coming here today to be with me and hear what I am going to say. I am here to announce my retirement and in one sense that is a simple thing to say and a simple story, but given that the sport I have given my life to has become more ‘fantastic’ than any soap opera and it has just given witness to the greatest ever sporting fraud, about which we get new and wider revelations each day, I thought it appropriate to share with you some of my experiences and, importantly some ideas for the future. And, understanding that for the duration of my career the sport has been through the darkest years, I want to both reflect and look ahead. I hope that in some small way, my experiences can help.

I am going to recount one of the aspects of my past career that few know about or understand, but about which I am most proud. I am going to talk about the abuse of drugs in the sport of cycling and my experiences and then I am going to talk about changes in the sport and look ahead at one overlooked but absolutely vital aspect.

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 am now 29 so that is 17 years of my life that I have enjoyed and now I am bringing to a close. I have won every race and more that I dreamed I could win. As a little girl of 12, after beating all the boys at the Welsh cyclo cross championships, I stood in front of the TV cameras and stated to the BBC reporter when asked the question what would you like do in cycling I answered “I want to win the Tour de France and win the Olympic Road Race” At 12 I dreamed like every child. I hoped that some of my dreams could come true. You cannot imagine how happy I am to be here with you now, with my dreams fulfilled. I am very happy.

As Jon said I have quite a collection of tee-shirts. Yellow ones, Pink ones, ones with rainbow bands and ones with coloured rings on. As I bring down the curtain on my career, I want to share with you something that I take the greatest pride in, which now, we could not imagine not being here, something now taken for granted.


At the age of 12 one is unaware of the problems ahead. One expects there to be an infrastructure for both boys and girls to develop and demonstrate their talents; to nurture them. One does not expect that nothing is available if you are a girl or that worse still, girls will be specifically excluded, not allowed to compete. It is somewhat of a handicap trying to demonstrate just how good you are on a bike when you are not allowed to ride.

There were no British Championship events for Girls. My father and I worked very hard with British Cycling, formerly the British Cycling Federation (BCF). We strived to convince them to hold events for girls and to provide the necessary support to help them progress. We had to do a great deal in so many ways. Cycling was, and continues to be, a male dominated sport and “equality” from many points of view still has a very long way to go.

I want to describe just two events that proved to be turning points and changed some things, so much for the better.

One of the turning points was at the British grass track championships. It was the 800m British Championships for Women and Victoria Pendleton took part, indeed her father helped to organize it. There were no Youth (under 16) or Junior (under 18) races and, being only 14 at the time, I was not allowed to compete with the Women. Furthermore, I was expressly forbidden, by the BCF from riding in the senior women’s Championship event. I had received a 3 page letter telling me all the reasons why I could not compete! However, there was a non-championship open event called an “omnium” which included an 800m handicap on the same day, which I was allowed to ride.

The first event that day for women was the British 800m Championship which was won by a smashing girl, Helen McGregor. Later on in the day the omnium started with the 800m handicap. As usual, in a handicap, the British Champion was put off on the scratch mark with all other riders to start ahead of the British Champion.

The handicapper knew that the BCF had officially instructed the organisers to stop me riding the women’s championships because I was too young, and decided to intervene and allow history to run its course. I was put off on scratch with Helen, while all the other riders, started in front of us.

Showdown time!

Worth far more than any medal was the applause of the crowd of cycling enthusiasts as I crossed the line first. Those are memories that will never be forgotten.

This was typical of many episodes with the BCF in that it must have been embarrassing for the officials.

My father wrote to the official who had ruled I could not ride and asked for Championships to be established for girls. The result was that the following year, The BCF put on a superb set of British track championships. The Federation spoiled us with jerseys, bouquets and medals just like the boys, senior men and senior women. The BCF could not have done a better job in response to that embarrassment.


From 1998 on, there have been Youth track events for girls and later, as they saw them succeed, they put on Junior events as well.. Now all the budding young stars like Jo Rowsall and Laura Trott can see an aspirational pathway for the girls, just as there has been for the boys, that simply did not exist when I started out on my career.

The same goes for Road Racing. When I started, the only 2 or 3 races per year available locally for under 16s, would feature myself as the only girl, my younger brother and about 3 others. I have the most vivid memory of 5 of us competing in a race in a howling gale and rain on Aberavon beachfront up and down between some cones. My brother was 11 and about ½ the size of the 6 foot 16 year old who won. This example highlights the immense efforts of the people who put it on, despite the circumstances and sorry state of cycling in Britain at the time.

There are many good folk in the cycling community who go to immense efforts to do their very best. In that case it was Louise and Phil Jones, absolute stalwarts of the cycling community.

Perhaps one of the best memories of my cycling career came when I was a Youth age competitor. There was no British Championship Youth Road Race for me to ride.

My Dad looked closely at the rules and found a bylaw that enabled Youth age competitors to compete in Junior road events once they had attained the age of 16, even though they were still Youth Category. He then found another rule that said if there was no Junior event of equivalent standing, which was the case here, entrants were automatically eligible to ride the Senior equivalent event. Dad checked it all with the organiser of the Senior British Women’s Road Race Championships Jon Miles to see if it was all ok, and it was. And so I rode my first British National Road race Championships having just turned 16, by being a Youth riding up as a Junior and because there was no Junior race I could compete with the Seniors! Winning that Senior title astounded a lot of people and winning this race is one of my favourite memories. Indeed, I still keep in touch with Jon who was very supportive at the time and took the care and time to talk to the small school girl asking for advice about the course.

Again the BCF and the lottery funded coaching structure was embarrassed that I won and beat the funded riders on their expensive equipment and resources, on my cheap bike. They had a British Cycling Team car and back up. I had dad on his bike with a saddlebag of energy bars and drinks to hand out!!

What they did not know was that in the weeks before, I had spent the summer riding over the Grand Cols, including over the highest road ever taken by the Tour the Cime de La Bonnette at over 2700m. I had ridden over this with mum, dad and my brother. I had put the hard work in and in my World, hard work counts for an awful lot.

I cannot help but think that, as a consequence of my letters the year before, and win that year; a Youth Circuit Race and a Junior category Road Race Championship and Series were put in place for female riders by the BCF.

Again they could not have done a better job. They stepped up to solving the problem I brought to light in a magnificent way.

Now I can attend local youth age events and see 45 riders, all locally based and there are 18 or so girls competing in their own race. This is a huge movement. I know Brad Wiggins and Mark Cavendish who have followed me onto the continent have rightly had lots of publicity for their successes and that has done an awful lot for the participation in cycling of both sexes. However, previously, there were no events put on by the BCF for girls and no support for girls. That all changed following my success as a Youth in the British Senior Championships. Now the likes of Dani King and Laura Trott have a shop window to display their exceptional talents. There is an infrastructure that supports them and nurtures their talent. I am just as proud of my part in bringing about those permanent changes as I am of being the first ever British winner of the Olympic Road Race or a major tour.

The Dark Side

I left school. There was no UK Lottery funding available to me. The 12 year old inside me with a dream of riding the Tour de France and collecting a few tee-shirts, knew exactly what I had to do I had to get across to the continent and join a team. Going there was great. It was one of my dreams coming true for me. Women’s Road cycling was huge at that time; both the women’s Tour de France and Giro (Tour of Italy) were 2 week events and looking like they would expand to 3 weeks to match the stage races for men. The World Cup visited more parts of the World than the men’s and had 160 rider fields and I was now going to be part of it.

I feel really privileged. I have not had to work, I have been able to travel the World and do something that really excites me and gives me great pleasure. That I was able to satisfy that inner 12 year old’s desire for collecting coloured clothes was another delight!

I have ridden professionally on the Road from 2002 to 2012. Those 11 years of my adult life I have given to the sport have been the very best I could give. It has been an incredibly turbulent time for the sport and it has not come out of it well. So many competitors have abused the sport by taking performance enhancing drugs and generated a travesty.

After the Festina tour in 1998 it was obvious to everyone who followed the sport that drugs were endemic. Like many, I hoped I could win races clean and that things would improve in that dark world as my career progressed.

We were all told in 1999 that testing was now improved and the show had been cleaned up. After all we now had a new, brighter than bright, clean tour Champion in Lance.

I did not have long to wait before encountering suspicious circumstances. In the fridge [in a team house] were various bottles and vials with diaphragms on top for extracting the contents via syringes. I rang dad and asked what I should do. We chatted it through and came to the conclusion that even condoning the presence of ‘medicines’ in the house I was staying, could lead to pressure being put on me, or in the worst case, if there was a raid on the house, it was highly unlikely that any of the “professionals I was sharing the house with were going to say “it’s a fair cop guv, That gear is all mine.” So, I emptied the fridge and put the lot out in the front garden and [said] either it went or I went. It went.

I have had days where temptation to start onto the slippery slope was brought in front of me. [In one race] I was asked what “medicines” I would like to take to help me, and was reminded that the team had certain expectations of me during the race and I was not living up to them with my performance over the last couple of stages. I said I would do my best until I had to drop out of the race, but I was not taking anything.

Pressure was put on me but I was determined, and fortunate. I had a very good team-mate who was in a similar predicament and she took the same stance I did. Team-mates that say

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Posted: 19th, January 2013 | In: Sports Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink