The secret of Autobiography Publishing is timing and by and large thanks to Ms Cooke’s former colleagues at British Cycling her timing has been made perfect, Future editions of this book will contain a big ‘thankyou’ for proving her right. Shortly after publication the BC squads for the World Championship were presented, without an entrant for the Female Time Trial, an Olympic event, detailing the wholesale lack of strategy employed by them, and this lack of ‘Joined Up Thinking’ becomes the main theme as Nicole scales her way to the top.
This book could really have had the more Chauceresque title of ‘A Tale of Two Millars’ as Little Nicole begins her interest in cycling as a sport after watching Robert Millar in the Alps but ends with the sad realisation that shamed drug cheat David Millar was, despite his lies and falsehoods, still holding sway in the sport, even after his unmasking, still operating in GB Team colours alongside a then in form Ms Cooke, getting better attention and help and unlike Nicole not coming up with the goods.
It is this and many other inequalities and inequities that Nicole lists throughout her career captured for the first time in print. The term ‘Autobiography’ is a smidge misleading here as the basis of this tome is a small amount of Childhood preamble which is fairly cut & paste from most riders of the pre ‘Deep section wheel/Di2/Carbon everything’ generation seeing Nicole make do and mend with ‘hand me down’ equipment, ‘money was tight but we had fun while all the other kids had better bikes etc’, before hitting the world of Pro Cycling hard at the ripe old age of 16…. Anyone looking for an in depth opening into the life of Nicole will be disappointed as once she gets into big time Cycling she enters a storyline of training, over training, more training and some racing. We are treated to many blow by blow accounts of her battles with riders all round the world which if you and I related would sound like a massive name dropping session but to Nicole it was another day at the office. This underlines the level she operated on and provides the mystery of the piece which is why British Cycling could never [despite her success] use her as a blueprint to help bring on other female British talent. The biggest giveaway is that for Nicole to break into the British squad is that she needed legal help from such a young age. The resulting Race CV generated over the next years is testimony that most of her methods were correct and should have been studied better.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the book is the endless list of riders, especially on the Welsh cycling Union side, that are messed about and rejected. Money, not talent, is always the issue and the list of these casualties mounts as the book goes on. This is counterpointed by the all too present reality that the names behind the scenes, actually drawing a living wage are mostly the same, highlighting the double standards on quality control that exists. These rejected riders were mostly lost to the sport, showing the lack of vision these bodies and teams have, a sport cannot be sustainable if only the tiniest elite element is cared for.
Without providing too many spoilers Ms Cooke’s biggest battles are behind the scenes, off the bike tussles, with a nebulous array of Welsh Cycling Union, British Cycling and assorted team staff (sometimes a crossover of all the above), which as the book develops give rise to the concept that cycling in Britain is more than heavily male dominated and even in the Lottery cash boom time that exists; the backup of Female coaches for the talented female riders is non-existent. Some of the names listed as being obstructive will surprise, leaving you thinking, ‘What him?? I thought he was a good guy??!!’, Ms Cooke is not afraid to mention these people which underpins her reputation for honesty. To offset any negativity this provides she does however always give praise to when and where it was required throughout her career.
The book offers a few frustrations, we know how Nicole’s career ends but there is no reference to where she goes now or what she would like to do with her time. But it serves as an apt wake-up call for the cycling scene in Britain that action is still needed to bolster the female side of the sport and take advantage of a boom time for women’s sport.
Cycling Shorts gives The Breakaway by Nicole Cooke 91% earning it our Star Buy rating.
The Breakaway by Nicole Cooke is published by Simon & Schuster UK (31 July 2014)