Byline: Andy Howell
WELSH cycling great Nicole Cooke is at the centre of an astonishing spat which could hurt her Olympic double dream.
Cooke - who won gold in the women's road race at Beijing two years ago - aims to defend her title at London 2012.
But the "Wick Wonder" has become embroiled in a bitter row with some of the riders she is expected to depend upon, both in London and at October's World Championship in Australia.
A war of words has broken out since Cooke cried foul after her nine-year reign as British road champion came to an end in Lancashire at Pendle last month. Cooke said competitors had ganged up together to beat her and refused to shake hands on the podium with winner Emma Pooley, whose attack in Beijing was credited by many as being the key in setting up Cooke's glory charge.
Now Cooke has launched an official protest, claiming international cycling rules decree that national championships are the one event that should be competed by individuals and not teams.
"There is no team event," said the bitter 27-year-old.
"UCI (International Cycling Union) rules are quite clear and require no collusion in the competition.
I rode alone, just like every other national race in the last 11 years."
But British Cycling president Brian Cookson insisted there was nothing in the rules to prohibit team racing - with Team Sky colluding to rip the opposition to shreds to set up Welsh ace Geraint Thomas for the men's race title.
Cooke accused the Cervelo Test Team of Pooley, Lizzie Armitstead and Sharon Laws of ganging up on her.
"The three riders teamed together against me," insisted Cooke.
"When three riders are racing with that type of attitude it makes it very hard to have a fair race."
By venting her anger publicly, Cooke has risked alienating her strongest allies when it comes to the World Championships and the 2012 Olympics.
Insiders have suggested they might not be prepared to put themselves at her service - and that could be a potential hammer blow to Cooke's gold medal chances in both events. …