Nicole Cooke finished third in the final stage of the Tour de l?Aude.

The Welsh rider got away with yellow jersey holder Susanne Ljungskog of Sweden and the two German riders, Judith Arndt and Trixi Worrack on the 71-kilometre stage that started and finished in Limoux.

Arndt won the sprint from Ljungskog. The quartet finished 59 seconds ahead of 11 that contained Cooke?s Great Britain team-mate Sharon Laws.

It was an aggressive end to the ten-day stage race in the south of France.

Cooke lifted herself to fourth place overall, with Ljungskog defending her lead of more than three minutes. Ardnt finished second with Worrack taking the final place on the podium.

The final day reshuffle saw Laws slip down to sixth place, but it meant there were two British riders in the top 10 of one of the most prestigious women?s stage races ? something that was unthinkable only a couple of years ago.

Cooke won the first road stage of the race, Laws took a second place, but the aim of catapulting one of them onto the podium on the final two hilly days fell narrowly short.

As preparation for the Olympic Games in August, it was perfect, though and Cooke and the British girls will head to next month?s Grande Boucle stage race in fine form and confident mood.

Emma Pooley, who is likely to join Cooke and Laws in the three-strong British team for the road race in Beijing, didn?t have a great week and missed the time cut on Friday.

Team manager Julian Winn was not slow to sing the praises of the other members of the Great Britain team ? Jessica Allen, Catherine Hare and Leda Cox ? who grew into their roles as domestiques and got through a tremendous amount of work for the team.

TOUR DE L?AUDE STAGE 9 RESULTS

1. Judith Arndt (Ger) High Road 71km in 1-54-56


2. Susanne Ljungskog (Swe) Menkini-Selle Italia

3. Nicole Cooke (GB) Great Britain

4. Trixi Worrack (Ger) Nurnberger all same time

7. Sharon Laws (GB) Great Britain at 59sec

22. Jessica Allen (GB) Great Britain at 3-41

40. Catherine Hare (GB) Great Britain at 4-24

57. Leda Cox (GB) Great Britain at 9-06

68. Emma Davies-Jones (GB) Swift Racing at 14-25

69. Helen Wyman (GB) Swift Racing at 14-25

FINAL OVERALL CLASSIFICATION

1. Susanne Ljungskog (Swe) Menkini-Selle Italia in 23-55-05


2. Judith Arndt (Ger) High Road at 3-35

3. Trixi Worrack (Ger) Nurnberger at 4-02

4. Nicole Cooke (GB) Great Britain at 4-23

5. Irene Van Den Broek (Ned) AA Drink at 4-57

6. Sharon Laws (GB) Great Britain at 5-11

36. Jessica Allen (GB) Great Britain at 46-52

55. Helen Wyman (GB) Swift Racing at 1-06-30

62. Leda Cox (GB) Great Britain at 1-15-38

67. Catherine Hare (GB) Great Britain at 1-29-32

81. Emma Davies-Jones (GB) Swift Racing at 2-12-30