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THE SUNDAY TIMES SPORT BOOK OF THE YEAR A retirement statement from a sports star rarely causes a flicker but Nicole Cooke went out as she rode her bike giving it her all The contrast could not have been greater as Lance Armstrong a fraudster backed by many corporate sponsors and feted by presidents was about to deliver a stage managed confession to Oprah so a young woman from a small village in Wales took aim      She too had been a cyclist the only rider ever to have become World and Olympic champion in the same year and the first British cyclist to have been ranked World No1 but as a woman in a man's sport her exploits gained little recognition and brought no riches She too had ridden through this dark period for the sport when drug taking was everywhere Nicole Cooke spoke up for those who had taken a very different path to Lance and his team mates      In her frank and outspoken autobiography Cooke reveals the real story behind British cycling's rise to global dominance With a child's dreams of success she left home at 18 to pursue her goals in Italy Broken contracts unpaid wages a horrendous injury and drugs cheats were just some of the challenges she faced even before she lined up to take on her opponents The Breakaway is a book that will not only inspire all those who read it but which also asks some serious uestions about the way society regards women's sport

10 thoughts on “The Breakaway

  1. says:

    This was beyond anything I expected it was a great read Too often I got to the end of a page and wanted to put the book down in rage at the injustices described and yet I needed to turn over and find out what happened next It left the reader inspired and yet bruised at the same timeIt is a book that can be appreciated in eual measure by those with no interest in sport and cycling aficionadosI have followed British Cycling for nearly 50 years and when Nicole Cooke burst on the scene it was obvious she was different I have always had a soft spot for her because it became clear from the very beginning that those who had made such a poor job of managing cycling through the turmoil of the decade that had proceeded her arrival were not going to appreciate her The 2000 British Championships went down in folk lore That British Cycling frustrated and didn't support her was to be expected What was entirely new on reading the book was the depth of the incompetence and the steps these people went to in exercising their petty minded prejudiceWhen I learnt that book was about to be released I was already thinking of Graham Obree and the way British Cycling connived with the UCI to outlaw his bike the day before he should have ridden to a World Championship Sold down the river is way too soft for it British Cycling ever parochial and biased supported Chris Boardman as their chosen star The passage in The Flying Scotsman where Obree describes his GB team members urinating in his bed whilst he was out of the room always stuck with me and exemplifies the laddish boorish group behaviour which meant British cyclists were so long the laughing no hopers on the World scene I was delighted to see Obree had written the foreword From start to finish this is a great book I won't describe events that had me gasping as I read it because you need to read them for the first time in context for full impact I have rather given up reading sporting autobiographies because of the formulaic prose often getting to the end of a book and having done nothing other than read a calendar littered with competition results; too often you learn nothing of the athlete or what made them want to win This book is nothing like that At first I skipped reading about Cooke's childhood moving to the sections I was familiar with but I actually went back to it because it is very necessary to understand the character that stood up to the chauvinistic bullies The reader needed to learn that Cooke is highly intelligent very determined and physically talented That was a combination that was always going to see off a lot of the academically challenged men who seem to find homes in sports administrationThis is not that other disaster of a sports autobiography the list of team managers who did not pick me or played me in the wrong position with players around me who could not pass the ball to a London bus There are plenty of characters male and female on whom Cooke lavishes praise However those who are not up to it get named and shamed Not that Cooke spares herself describing her own mistakes and errors in the same candid nature she exposes the faults of others Whilst it has its amusing passages it is a brutal read at times My breaks were to go an make myself and coffee and give myself a restHowever it is in many places beautifully written; the sections describing the tactics of road races were better than I had seen in any other cycling autobiography Her love of this great sport comes shining through in a way that so completely contrasts with say Victoria Pendleton At times it does seem to skate through events and it could have done with detail being added to certain passages It could also have done with a list of characters as used in Wheelmen sometimes there are too many to remember them all It is all set against the dreams of a child from ten to the end of her career And it is that which caused me to write this review I think for a certain type of male cyclist who is male centric this is going to be a very uncomfortable read I was so ashamed of the sport of cycling as I read through this book and my attitude to women's sport as a man The frustrations never ending stream of obstacles that she and other female riders have to face day in day out; at so many levels wages events disorganised teams lack of press recognition and the appalling effect of drugs which I had not appreciated how seriously the scandals on the men's scene had so decimated the women's scene; these are all well beyond what I understood That these are overcome with guile and determination in eual measure is so uplifting Sky and the male riders have so captivated the UK and yet here is a rider whose exploits outshine all of those from Cav Brad and Froome and yet whose story is so little known by the general public This is an astonishing fact that only adds credibility to her account and Cooke herselfThis truly is an inspirational book on many levels It is set in a cycling context but at its heart is a story for every young adult It is about overcoming the odds and achieving your goals regardless of the obstacles others place in front of you I think of the books I was reuired to read as a teen ager at school and I think this would have made a far suitable material I am going to ensure my teen age niece and her mum read it Along with the list of characters I think it could have done with a copy of her retirement statement that shot round the World Here is the link I re read it both before and after reading the book

  2. says:

    Fantastic read by a fantastic cyclist One of the best cycling books I've read yetI knew Nicole faced a lot of adversity in her astounding career but I didn't appreciate how much of that came from the cycling establishment in the UK I've never been so angry reading a book There are some great blow by blow accounts of races and finishes discussing tacticts that would be of interst to non cyclists alsoNicole is very open and honest she's lavish with praise for those in her opinion deserve support and mention and eually damning of those that have obstructed womens cycling in the UK mostly the male dominated institution of British Cycling You can really feel the exasperation coming through but also the passion for cycling for winning and for creating a thriving scene for womens cycling in the UK and continent Since Nicole was fighting on her own for so long and this is something very close to her heart I'd be really interested in hearing the viewpoint of British Cycling and also the other riders from HTC Cervelo teams who dominated the 2011 12 seasons for a balanced viewSaying that her writing doesn't come off as one sided or transparently venting steam there are some very clear uestions that need answers

  3. says:

    A fascinating biography of the best British cyclist you've never heard ofI'm astonished to admit that I knew very little about Nicole Cooke's illustrious cycling career In her biography Nicole gives a brutally honest account of the challenges she's faced both on and off the bike which goes some way towards explaining why she's the best British cyclist you've probably never heard ofAn inspiring and thought provoking read and highly recommended not just for fans of cycling but for fans of all sports#ThisGirlCan and did so a long time before that hash tag became popular

  4. says:

    The best autobiography I've ever read it was so much than a book about Nicole I wanted to throw the book across the room half the time cry at others and at special victories I got goosebumps This book is a must for any sportsperson or athlete British sport has so far to come as I refuse to believe that this insane and infuriating level of sexism is limited to cycling We can all do and Nicole's example in this book has already encouraged me to be so much active in my cycle clubs Thanks for the journey x

  5. says:

    A good insight into professional road cycling Dropped a star as it got a bit whiny What it did do though was highlight the way women’s sports has been treated over the years Only now are things starting to slowly change

  6. says:

    Excruciatingly detailed trip through the early years of the women's side of British Cycling through the eyes of one of the truly great and under appreciated sport stars of this country

  7. says:

    Puts british male cycling to shame Well done Nicole

  8. says:

    You have to feel for Nicole Cooke It’s possible to make the case for her being the most successful British sportsperson of the last 15 years She was the first Brit to win the Tour de France or indeed any Grand Tour she also won the Giro; the first cyclist – male or female – to be World and Olympic road race champion in the same year; the first British rider to win the World Cup; the first British rider to be ranked world number one in the UCI rankings and she was British road race champion a jaw dropping ten times Her road race gold in Beijing in 2008 is right up there in my top ten greatest ever sporting moments and she was doing all of this clean in a sport riddled with doped athletes And yet what popular recognition did she get at the time or since beyond a relatively modest number of cycling or Olympics wonks? Cooke makes a pretty convincing case in this book for British cycling being institutionally sexist As she was breaking into the sport it was run by incompetent sexist amateurs and later it was seemingly run by competent but sexist professionals Everything she achieved was achieved with little or no support from British Cycling for whom the track team and elite men were always top priority She repeatedly snarls the phrase ‘marginal gains’ in inverted commas as something never applied to women’s road racing and in that respect this book is a corrective to the popular perception of the shiny progressive Brailsford era British Cycling machine If BC were feeding the press releases to the sports journalists it’s perhaps no surprise that Cooke always remained on the margins of popular sporting consciousness And she’s clearly furious that when the doping scandals in men’s cycling caused the sponsorship money to dry up in the 2000’s it was the women’s events that were invariably first to be sacrificed the last women’s Tour de France was held in 2009 and won that year by another largely unheralded and recently retired British rider Emma PooleyI’m sure Dave Brailsford would argue that you can’t do everything all at once and it’s impossible to deny how successful British Cycling has been in recent years on the track in particular Cooke isn’t necessarily a barrel of laughs – there’s lots of letter writing to officials going on in this book – and there’s no dramatic personal redemptive narrative arc of the kind that marks some of the best sports biographies But there’s no denying how brilliant Nicole Cooke was as a bike rider what a natural competitor she was and it’s hard not to get cross on her behalf at all the men trying to get in her way A bike race is a bike race regardless of whether it’s men or women in the saddle

  9. says:

    There is a great Scottish word to describe Nicole Cooke feisty To be a truly great champion you need physical ability intelligence and the mental toughness to overcome adversity whatever its source Nicole certainly had a lot with injuries team problems and suffering the marginalisation of female road racing by British Cycling She fought and overcame all of this to win a peerless list of victories that rank alongside Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish Add to all this a strong and laudable stance against drugs How many races might she have won if it hadn’t been for the drug cheats and why she was never nominated for SPOTI? She should have been I did wonder if sometimes she might have done better by being devious subtle and cunning when dealing with authorities but that just wasn’t her style As always there are two sides to every ‘story’ and it would be fascinating to read British Cycling’s take on events Her preparation and analysis of races is forensic and she probably knows than anyone about road race preparations at the highest level She would make a brilliant team manager but a job offer from British Cycling does not seem likely She has had a stellar career and whatever she does next I wish her well and hope she finds contentment Her book gives an interesting insight into the workings of British Cycling; the impression is that as time went by things got better She certainly could not be ignored when she was Olympic and World Champion in the same year Although Nicole deserves all her awards her parents deserve eual recognition for their unswerving and dedicated support Anyone interested in sport would enjoy this book

  10. says:

    No one describes the action inside the race as well as Nicole Cooke Every race is described with fascinating details and had me on the edge of my seat even the ones where I knew the resultOutside the racing the story is nearly as fascinating as we read about the doping neglect and poor financing of women's cycling Nicole falls out with so many people that at times you start to wonder Maybe it's her But I was left feeling that yes it was her she just wasn't going to sit back and be treated the way that people thought female athletes should be treated