Nicole Cooke: “Cycling is a Sport Run by Men, for Men”

Cooke provides evidence for the Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into British Cycling

Photo: Chris Maher

Nicole Cooke has provided written evidence of sexism at British Cycling and appeared before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry that aims to combat doping in the sport.

The Former World and Olympic Champion provided written information, and appeared via a video link, to help members of the inquiry investigate the culture of British Cycling. Their last brush with the sport was when Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton made an appearance in December, to discuss (among other topics) the mysterious medicine that was carried to Sir Bradley Wiggins  and Team Sky at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné.

In Cooke’s written evidence, she explored the issues of sexism and the abuse of TUE (therapeutic use exemptions) and doping in the sport.

“Men and the actions and achievements of men, were all that mattered.”

Addressing the gender battle, she commented: “[cycling is] a sport run by men, for men” – adding: “Throughout my whole career, BC senior management and the Board could not have made it more clear to those they directed, that men and the actions and achievements of men, were all that mattered.”

Drawing her evidence from ten years of “active engagement in the sport”, between 2002 and 2012 – she concluded: “The management at BC are able to show discrimination and favouritism for projects and individuals without check or balance; they are answerable only to themselves.”

Regarding the mysterious case of the ‘jiffy bag’ taken to Team Sky and Wiggins, Cooke focuses on the fact that it was transported by Simon Cope – who was at the time the National Women’s Team Coach.

During his trip, the women’s team was left without a coach to run their own training camp. She says: “[The] National Coach has refused to allow a camp to be run for the British Women’s Road Team and the National Women’s Coach is instead directed to act as courier for his long term friend and ex professional team mate Bradley Wiggins at Team Sky or spend some weeks riding a moped in front of him as part of a training regimen, directed by the National Coach.” She adds: “Nobody in the organisation anywhere would have asked the question – hasn’t Cope got another job to do? At fault are those who designed the program in the way they did.”

Cooke, who was the first person (man or woman) to be the World and Olympic road race champion in the same year, makes it clear that she felt unsupported by British Cycling in her Golden Year of 2008. She explains: “as there was no male rider who could effectively challenge for a World title, they downgraded the whole preparation for that event. At those World Championships I found I could not get basic repairs completed for my bicycle by the BC mechanics”. Cooke says she won the World Championships, and the Olympics – despite having to sew her own logo onto a skinsuit prior to the event because no up-to-date version was provided.

She adds: “The facts are they did nothing for the women. Whilst this deluxe program ran out for the men’s London 2012 bid, Emma Pooley and myself self funded our flights to and accommodation in Australia.”

Commenting on doping and TUE’s, Cooke makes it clear she believes there is an epidemic in cycling – largely down to “conflicts of interest” and poor governance. She says: “In my first full season, 2002 I became fully aware that the use of PEDs was still endemic in the sport and the ‘new clean era’ post the Festina scandal of 1999 was a designed fiction.”

Finally, Cooke finishes with a look at the UK Sport funding given to those she believes are not acting in a responsible manner – for example the £78,000 that supported Brian Cookson in his bid for position as UCI president.

“With ex BC President Brain Cookson seeking another term in office perhaps it would be well to compare actions with manifesto commitments before committing further public funds to support a subsequent bid. Easily measureable was his commitment that within 12 months of coming into office he would ensure female professional cyclists all received a minimum salary…. Needless to say this has not happened and three years after his election the prospect of a minimum wage being introduced is even further away than it was at the time of his election… I would suggest that there are more deserving demands on the public funds available.”

The evidence provided by Cooke is available in full, here. In her own autobiography, Breakaway, the retired pro makes it clear that she battled with British Cycling throughout her career.  

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