- 10 Aug 08, 02:45 PM
Nicole Cooke pulled off the biggest victory of her life thanks to a combination of ability, tactical nous and sheer guts.
We knew she had the ability to win before the start in downtown Beijing, but in road cycling that's only one part of the equation.
It's a tactical sport and even if you are the strongest rider in the field, you won't necessarily win unless you ride intelligently.
Chase everything all day and you will be a spent force when it really matters.
Cooke had the benefit of two strong team-mates on the rain-sodden roads here.
Sharon Laws and particularly Emma Pooley were prominent near the front for much of the race to keep an eye on things, enabling Cooke to hide in the relative shelter of the pack in the early stages.
Pooley made a lone effort on the first lap of the two on the finishing circuit which helped to take the sting out of some of the others and also ensured that Cooke didn't need to chase and cover any moves.
Pooley's effort didn't pay off for her personally, but it did mean that Cooke only had to monitor moves for the final lap, which must have helped.
By the top of the big 12km long climb on the final lap, Cooke had put herself in a potentially winning position by being at the front in a group of five riders without having had to instigate the move herself.
The final 12kms were mostly downhill, so provided the break stayed away and she stayed upright on the treacherously wet roads, Nicole will have known she had the opportunity of a lifetime because she can sprint uphill and she's got guts.
There was momentary concern inside the last kilometre when she dropped about 20m behind the other four, but soon caught up and launched her bid for victory in the final 300 metres.
Cooke had to dig deep to hold off Emma Johannsson and Tatiana Guderzo, but her sheer desire took over in those final few glorious metres and the gold was hers.
A lifetime's sporting ambition fullfilled and in doing so Nicole has become the first British woman ever to win a cycling gold medal.
It all played out perfectly for her and she fully deserved her victory.
Her talent hasn't been in doubt for years now, but this is the big one.
As a junior she won four world titles in the space of 12 months. She won the road race two years running as well as a gold in the mountain bike cross country and road time trial. That was in 2000 and 2001.
Since then Nicole has been the big hope for Britain in women's road cycling, but left Athens disappointed with 5th place four years ago.
She has won the Women's Tour De France, Tour of Italy, the season long World Cup Competition twice and been world number one in recent years, while claiming a silver and two bronze medals in the senior road race championships.
But until today her only senior gold medal had been at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.
She's completely eclipsed that now and will ensure her name is now heralded among a much wider sporting public, which is richly deserved.
Commentating on the race, I sensed she had a great chance but was also aware that the wet conditions had the potential to pose a problem at the bottom of the descent, so didn't want to tempt fate.
Describing her cliffhanging sprint to victory, and Britain's first medal of the Games, was a real thrill and I don't think I'll stop grinning for the rest of the day!
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