Cooke retires with parting shot at Armstrong
Former Olympic road race cycling champion Nicole Cooke has retired from cycling, launching an extraordinary parting shot at the International Cycling Union (UCI), Lance Armstrong and the likes of Tyler Hamilton, who she claims have "robbed" clean riders of their careers.
Cooke, who won gold for Great Britain at the Beijing Olympics 2008, called time on an 11-year career at a London press conference, but the 29-year-old ensured that her final act as a professional cyclist was to hit back at the doping era that continues to overshadow the sport.
"I do despair that the sport will ever clean itself up when rewards of stealing are greater than riding clean," Cooke said. "If that remains the case, the temptation for those with no morals will always be too great.
"I am so very fortunate to have been able to have won clean. I have been robbed by drug cheats, but I am fortunate, I am here before you with more in my basket than the 12-year-old dreamed of.
"But for many genuine people out there who do ride clean, people with morals, many of these people have had to leave the sport with nothing after a lifetime of hard work - some going through horrific financial turmoil."
Cooke took aim at Armstrong on the day the disgraced American rider is recording his first interview since being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. The Oprah Winfrey exclusive is set to air on Thursday night.
"When Lance "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. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances," Cooke added.
She then turned her attentions to Tyler Hamilton, whose autobiography about his own doping while riding alongside Armstrong won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2012.
"Tyler Hamilton will make more money from a book describing how he cheated than I will make in all my years of honest labour," Cooke continued. "Please don't reward people like Hamilton with money. That is the last thing he needs.
"Donate his literary prize and earnings to charity. There are many places infinitely more deserving than the filthy hands of Hamilton"
Cooke then blasted the UCI for "wasting time" while limiting the damage of the Armstrong saga to the cost of the sport at large, and women's cycling in particular.
"Whilst they [the UCI] have been so engrossed trying to find receipts for the equipment they bought after Lance made donations to them, and suing Floyd Landis after he blew the whistle, and hold press conferences calling Landis a liar. Whilst they have been busy with all these priorities, the women's road sport, that looked so promising in 2002 when I turned professional, has crumbled."
Cooke, who was crowned world and Olympic road race champion in the space of two months in the summer of 2008, also revealed the battles she faced to receive wages from teams, being forced to take four former teams to court.
"I have won every time," she said, "but this is incredibly abrasive and exhausting in so many ways."
Cooke also revealed that she was offered performance-enhancing drugs early on in her professional career.
"I have had days where temptation to start onto the slippery slope was brought in front of me," Cooke said. "In my Tour de France when I was 19 as the race went on my strength left me.
"I was invited into a team camper and asked what "medicines" I would like to take to help me and was reminded that the team had certain expectations of me during the race and I was not living up to them with my performance over the last couple of stages.
"I said I would do my best until I had to drop out of the race, but I was not taking anything."
Cooke, a former world No. 1, had struggled for form and motivation in the past two seasons, with talk of retirement first circulating in October 2012.
"My time in the sport has finished," said the 10-time British road race champion. "I hope I will look on in 10 years' time and see a vibrant and healthy women's road scene. The key to that will be that the female athletes are treated with respect."