January 17, 2013 – British female road cyclist, Nicole Cooke (Faren Honda Team) retired from cycling this week at the young age of 29 which was widely reported. Cooke is the first rider in cycling history to win both Olympic and UCI Worlds Road race titles in the same year (2008). As she exited the sport Cooke took time to bash doping cheats while announcing her retirement at a press conference. Americans Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton were named including retired Canadian rider Genevieve Jeanson who was also among those she rebuked.
“When Lance Armstrong ‘cries’ on Oprah later this week and she passes him the tissue, spare a thought for all those genuine people who walked away with no rewards – just shattered dreams,” said Cooke, relating how she had victories stolen from her by drug cheats. “Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances.”
While Cooke slammed Jeanson, she praised another Canadian rider, Lyne Bessette (who has retired from professional road cycling but still competes in para-cycling and cyclocross). “Second fiddle to Jeanson during this time in Canada was a rider with morals called Lyne Bessette. Nobody can give back to Lyne Bessette or I the wins Jeanson stole from us. Throughout her career Jeanson repeatedly lied, just like Lance and yet now, she confesses that she had been on an extensive doping program since she was 16. The full story only came out, via quality investigative journalism.”
Cooke then began quoting Bessette: “Jeanson won whilst I came second. Whilst I earned $80,000 in a couple of years at the peak of my career, Jeanson was making $400,000 per year. Now she has “confessed” and this is newsworthy – they are going to make a film and Jeanson who cheated, will steal from others for a second time, telling the tale of how she robbed and lied.”
“This is stealing somebody else’s livelihood,” continued Cooke, speaking for herself. “It’s theft, just as much as putting your hand in a purse or wallet and taking money is theft. I do despair that the sport will ever clean itself up when the rewards of stealing are greater than riding clean. If that remains the case, the temptation for those with no morals will always be too great. I have been robbed by drugs cheats, but am fortunate, I am here with more in my basket and more jerseys than I dreamed of as a 12-year-old girl. But for many people who do ride clean, some are going through horrific financial turmoil.”
Cooke also related how women cyclists cannot always count on a steady paycheque; she has had to take legal actions against sponsors on four occasions to have them pay promised wages. As recently as this past March, it happened again, all while Cooke was preparing to defend her Olympic title.
Although most of her wins date back a few years, Cooke won Stage 6 at the Energiewacht Tour in 2012 and also Stage 5 of the Giro d’Italia Femminile in 2011, the same year she finished second at the UK road championships according to Wikipedia.