Nicole Cooke Halfords Bikehut

Halfords Bikehut will be officially announced as the sponsor of the new British women?s professional team at a press launch at London Zoo later this morning.

Nicole Cooke will lead a squad of 10 women who will race as Halfords Bikehut in the UK.

But whenever they race abroad it will be as a Great Britain national team.

This means other riders who are not part of the domestic Halfords Bikehut set-up, such as Specialized?s Emma Pooley, can be called up for specific international races in the build-up to the Olympic Games.

The strategy has been devised by British Cycling?s performance director Dave Brailsford as the ideal way to prepare Cooke for the Olympic Games and World Championships.

Instead of parachuting into the national squad for short periods around the major championships, the 24-year-old Welsh rider will at the heart of the squad all season.

Tanja Slater, who won a stage of the Grande Boucle Féminine, the women?s version of the Tour de France, will be a key team-mate for Cooke.

And the team will give the best of Britain?s young female riders a chance to race and learn from one of the finest in the world. Most of the teenagers are members of British Cycling?s Olympic Development Programme.

Two men ? Rob Hayles and Tom Southam ? will also race in Halfords Bikehut colours in the Premier Calendar and other domestic events.

For Hayles it gives his road season more structure as he bids to make the Olympic Games team and for Southam it is a return to Europe after 18 months in Australia. Southam left the Italian Barloworld squad in the summer of 2006 and almost quit cycling but has had his appetite for racing restored.

See this week?s issue of Cycling Weekly for more details and scroll down for biographies of the Halfords Bikehut riders and interviews with the key figures.

Check back later for updates and reaction from the team launch.

PICTURE: Nicole Cooke and Joanna Rowsell lead the squad during their pre-Christmas training camp in Abergavenny, Wales. by Andy Jones

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Ten women and two men make up the 2008 Halfords Bikehut team. Find out more here.

Link: Halfords Bikehut who's who?

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Nicole Cooke and team manager Julian Winn talk about the new team.

Link: Cooke talks about the new team

Tom Southam is set to return to the UK after 18 months in Australia.

Link: Southam relishing challenge

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This isn't the first time Halfords has sponsored a top cycling team. In 1987 the ANC-Halfords squad ? including Malcolm Elliott, Shane Sutton, Adrian Timmis and Paul Watson ? rode the Tour de France. It was a roller-coaster ride and you can read all about their exploits in an extended edition of a feature that first appeared in Cycle Sport

Link: ANC-Halfords 20 years on

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