BRITAIN?s World Cup champion and world ranked number one rider, Nicole Cooke (Raleigh- Lifeforce) cooly retained her seven second overall advantage in the Geelong Tour three-day after stage three, a 115-kilometre stage at Lara yesterday.
She finished 23rd in the mass bunch sprint as Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (T-Mobile) convincingly won her second consecutive stage. Her team-mate Oenone Wood took second place after giving Teutenberg a good leadout.
Cooke’s team reeled in a breakaway group of 13 with just three kilometres remaining. They had escaped at half-distance on the steep slopes of Mount Wallace.
Best best-placed GB rider on the stage was Catherine Hare (Biggin and Scott), 9th. Best placed GB overall after Cooke is Tanja Slater (GB national team), 23rd.
Anneliese Heard, GB national team, did not finish.
The Geelong Tour is a prelude to the UCI Women?s World Cup opener on Saturday (March 3) when Cooke wears number one as defending champion at the head of an impressive line up.
Cooke was placed 8th last year, in the same time as the winner, in a mass sprint finish taken by Teutenberg who will defend her individual title on Saturday, supported by 2004 world champion Judith Arndt and Aussie big hitter, Oenone Wood, World Cup winner in 2004-5.
In 2006, Cooke took three World Cup victories and dominated stage racing. Her two biggest wins were the Le Grand Boucle Feminine International, which Cooke led from start to finish, and the Thuringen Rundfaht, when she won four stages.
The British champion has been training in Australia since January and clearly in fine form and happy with her Raleigh Lifeforce Creation HB Team.
They are one of the top four women?s pro teams entered, alongside 16 national teams adding up to over 100 riders.
Other principal riders of Lifeforce include Switzerland?s Priska Doppman.
Japan?s Miho Oki, second in Geelong last year, returns riding for the Italian MenikiniGyusko team.
Other top names include former double world road race champion Suzanne Ljungskog of Sweden, Trixi Worrack of Germany and Edita Pucinskaite of Lithuania.
Britain’s team includes Anneliese Heard, Maryam Rogers, Tanja Slater and Emma Pooley.
The 120-kilometre race will cover eight laps of a 15-kilometre circuit.