Nicole Cooke wins Olympic road race 2008

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One of the secrets to Nicole Cooke?s success was the skinsuit she wore in Sunday?s Olympic road race.

While Emma Pooley and Sharon Laws opted for the standard Great Britain team road jersey and shorts, Cooke wore a skinsuit, which is unusual in a mass-start road race event.

Eagle-eyed viewers watching on television would have noticed that the blue stripes on the shoulders were darker and wider and that the shorts were a darker blue.

Cooke rides for Halfords Bikehut, as does Rob Hayles, who may have helped plant the seed of the idea earlier in the summer when he wore a skinsuit to win the National Championship road race in North Yorkshire.

British Cycling have worked for more than a year to find every possible advantage and Hayles is an advocate of racing in a skinsuit, even if others are sceptical.

Hayles was in his Halfords-sponsored national champion's skinsuit again on Sunday, to win the Tour of Pendle Premier Calendar race, and says that however small the advantage, it is still an advantage.

?I started wearing a skinsuit because I definitely feel there is a benefit,? said Hayles. ?It is not a case that British Cycling said ?Oh, Rob?s doing it so we?ll all do it,? but I did say to Winny [Halfords Bikehut team manager Julian Winn] ?Have you got Nicole in a skinsuit??

?It?s a little bit different and people may look at you and say ?what are you wearing that for?? but you would never dream of doing a time trial in a road jersey for a very good reason.

?People spend thousands on lightweight aerodynamic wheels or hundreds on aero handlebars and then put a flappy jersey on and cancel out any advantage gained and more.

?Every time you hit the front and are in the wind you are time trialling. Yesterday [in the Tour of Pendle] I time trialled for eight miles at the end of that race and being as aero as possible has to be an advantage.?

Hayles said he could see more riders deciding to wear a skinsuit in road races in future. ?The biggest issue is the lack of pockets but you can have one stitched on the back to take some food. If the circumstances are right, it is the right clothing to wear.?

"Chris Boardman told me he turned up at the Archer Grand Prix in a skinsuit once and people said: 'What have you got that on for?' At the end of the day we?re looking for the tiniest margin. We?ve never got in the wind tunnel to test it because it?s obvious there's a difference but I?d imagine we?d be horrified at how much drag you get from a road jersey.?

Cooke?s decision to wear a skinsuit was not without precedent. In fact, 23 years ago Stephen Roche did the same thing for a short road stage in the 1985 Tour de France.

One morning in that Tour they had a short stage in the Pyrenees which started in the valley road and then climbed to the top of the Col d?Aubisque. The Irishman?s directeur sportif told him to treat the race like a time trial by attacking from the gun and soloing to the summit. So, treating the race like a time trial meant wearing a skin-tight Lycra one-piece outfit that had only recently been invented.

Even Roche wasn?t an innovator in this respect. The American Andy Hampsten did exactly the same thing to win a mountain stage of the Giro earlier that same summer.

Now the question is whether Cooke?s choice of attire will spark a new trend in road racing.

Hayles wins his national road race title in June wearing a skinsuit. British Cycling?s secret squirrels keep their methods close to their chest, but they were no doubt interested Hayles?s thoughts. Hayles and Cooke both ride for Halfords Bikehut too.


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