YOUR GUIDE: Nicole Cooke
DISTANCE: 35 miles (56.5km)
MAIN CLIMB: Llangeinor, Blackwell and Taff Ely wind farm
TOTAL CLIMB: 905m
ACHTUNG! Watch out for sheep along coast road. Descent from wind farm is narrow with cattle grids
Home these days is in Lugano, Switzerland for Nicole Cooke, UCI world’s number-one female cyclist. Her Swiss base is close to Varese and Mendrisio, the venues for the next two World Championships in 2008 and 2009.
“They are areas I use as training roads,” says Cooke.
“I can ride to Varese in an hour and it’s 40 minutes to Mendrisio. They are going to have hilly courses but I think the familiarity of knowing the course like the back of your hand will help.”
It seems a world away from the small Welsh village of Wick in the Vale of Glamorgan where she grew up and where we meet her for this ride.
Cooke is on a rare visit back to the family home to recover and prepare for the National Road Race Championships after just winning the female Tour de France, for the second consecutive year. Nicole gives me some insight into the five-day race: “The organisers try to take in as much of France as they can, so it does mean you have a stage and then you have really long transfers.
“It makes it one of a kind, in terms that other stage races are based in regions and you don’t have to travel so far. So it is a very wearing stage race because it’s not just the racing you have to deal with, it’s the travel and all the logistics that go with that too. In terms of the terrain, we are doing fantastic courses.
“With the stages, last year it had Mont Ventoux, and this year the Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin for the mountain stages — so I think it’s a tough race,” says Cooke, with the reflected memories of the previous week’s efforts in her voice.
Cooke sets off out of Wick accompanied by her Connecticut boyfriend, Peter Baker, who she met while she was in Italy.
“We met in Italy when Peter was racing there. Right now he is over in Europe before he starts his post grad,” Cooke tells us and Baker adds, “I go back to the States to start my MA in architecture at the University of Oregon in September.”
The two pedal and chat as they head towards St Brides Major and the coast road west of Wick. It’s a beautiful coastline and it forms part of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, an area given as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
The road rolls along the coast offering views back across the numerous headlands and across the Bristol Channel to north Devon. Rounding the corner at Ogmore-by-Sea the road follows the bay and heads inland. There are fine views across the bay to the white buildings that
Heading towards Ewenny you pass the ruins of Ogmore Castle by the meandering Ewenny river. There are great views again across the river plain and a first glimpse of the hills that await you in the distance. “It’s like fairyland,” enthuses Cooke as she takes in the vista on this beautiful sun-kissed morning.
From Ewenny, Cooke and Baker negotiate the busier roads up through Bridgend and head north towards Pontycymer. They take the right turn at Llangeinor and start to climb the first of the three hills that form this ride.
Here Nicole explains: “It’s quite a tough ride because it has got three hills on it. If I want a short ride for just sharpening up the legs doing the hills, then it’s perfect. So perhaps two or three days before a big race it’s good because it’s not so long that it really takes a lot out of you, but you can get a quality workout.”
The road winds up to a crossroads that marks the summit. “It’s a sit down and pedal climb,” advises Cooke.
“A 21 or 19×39 is a good gear and you will be doing fine up here.” The top provides for great views before the fast descent (with one bend that seems to never end) down to Pant-yr-awel and right to Blackwell.
The left out of Blackwell is the second climb, which is steeper, and takes you towards Glynogwr and the right turn up the narrow final climb past the Taff Ely wind farm. There are 20 turbine masts to the farm which have been managed by npower renewables since 1993.
It’s the highest point on the ride and a favourite viewpoint with Cooke.
“On a clear day you can see Wick from the top — Wick has an old windmill. It’s probably also because it’s the last hill, and you’re almost home. It’s rolling afterwards but the hills are over,” adds a smiling Cooke.
“On all the hills I know now, having done them so many times, what speed and what gears I need for a fast ride and good form,” explains Cooke as we head to Pencoed. “So it’s nice to go round and think: ‘Yeah, I’m one gear up’.”
For specific parts of her training plan Cooke will use an SRM power meter to measure specific power output during intervals, though Cooke tells us: “Heart rate, is the big guide.”
Most of her training is done alone though Nicole reveals: “In Switzerland I do do some training with my team-mates. There are also a couple of local riders that I will meet up with for some of the distance rides. But I have my training plan which I follow, so if I can fit in riding with other people to give it that little extra then that’s good.”
From Pencoed it is then just a few rolling miles before we find ourselves back in Wick. It’s been a good ride which can form the basis of bigger rides and Cooke suggests: “After going over the first climb you could go left over the Bwlch and round to Maesteg and Port Talbot and back. Or you could go up over the Rhigos and back through Aberdare and that way home, or even over to the Five Valleys area and down the Neath Valley.”
YOUR GUIDE: NICOLE COOKE
Age: 24 years old.
Born in Swansea. The family home is in Wick near Bridgend.
Lives in Lugano, Switzerland.
Relaxes by listening to music and learning languages.
Career highlights: “The 2006 season as a whole really stands out as one big point,” explains Cooke. “In terms of the World Cup title for the second time, World Championships, World No.1 and Commonwealth Games, I think there were a lot of great things in that season. Then the 2004 Giro d’Italia (Giro Donne), winning that one. And finally, the whole of 2000-2001, that 12 months with the World Championships (junior).”
2008 Olympic Road Race Champion
2008 Road Race World Champion
Nicole’s three pro teams:
Deia Pragma-Colnago in 2002; Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattan in 2003-05; and Team Univega now Raleigh Lifeforce 2006-2007.
From Wick take B4265 to St Bridges Major. Turn left (TL) onto B4524 to Ewenny. TL onto B4265 to Bridgend. TL onto A473 to join A4063. Pass under M4 to roundabout to turn right (TR) and immediately TL. Continue and TL onto A4064 direction Pontcymer. TR in Llangeinor onto A4093 to TR on to A4061 to Blackmill. TL onto A4093 to Glynogwr.
TR on to narrow unclassified road past Taff Ely wind farm to crossroads. Straight on towards Pencoed. At T-junction TL on to B4280 to TR at roundabout on to A473. At second roundabout TL signed St Mary’s Hotel and Pentre Meyrick. Cross A48 on to B4268 to join B4270 towards Llantwit Major. TR on to unclassified road to TR onto B4265 back to Wick.