He was a ‘name’ when I first got into cycling in 1970 and some 50 years later he’s still a ‘name’; Mr. Geoff Cooke, British and Commonwealth Champion ‘back in the day’ and multiple British and World Masters Champion and record holder in recent years.
It’s high times VeloVeritas caught up with this velodrome legend.
Your first win, Geoff?
“My first significant win was the East Midlands Schoolboy Road Race Championship over 10 laps of a circuit with a hill in it held at Nottingham Goose Fair time.
“There were about 60 starters, it was then I realised that cycling was for me – prior to that I’d wanted to be a footballer and had played at County level.”
I always associate you with tandem racing, how did you become involved with that side of the sport?
“It happened by accident.
“I worked for a chap called Ron Davidson who was in the Nottingham Phoenix club, he was going to ride the British Tandem Sprint Championship but his partner had crashed and injured himself so Ron asked me if I’d like to ride.
“I agreed and we won the bronze medal.
“The next year we rode but didn’t do anything.
“In ’63 I teamed up with Eric Thomson, who had twice ridden the Olympics, and we won it – my first of nine national titles on the tandem.
“The event was good to me, always riding as stoker.
“I remember Dave Rowe and I riding a 10.1 second last 200 back in the 70’s – that was pretty quick in that era.”
I recall you had quite a few partners over the years.
“Yes, Eric, Ian Alsop; Dave and I went to the Olympics in Munich ’72, we did OK but nothing special.
“Then in ’73 Ernie Crutchlow and Micheal Wright beat us in the British Champs; Wright was Belgium based and Tommy Godwin, the GB team manager decided to put Ernie and I together; we just flew.
“It’s an interesting story about my relationship with Tommy; I was very disappointed at not going to the Olympics in ’64 and again in ’68, it’s fair to say that we weren’t on the best of terms.
“My tandem partner, Ian Alsop went to Mexico and rode the team pursuit.
“I wrote to Tommy regarding my Mexico non-selection, received a reply by return of post and from then on enjoyed a very good relationship with him.
“When Ernie stopped due to his business commitments I paired up with the late Paul Medhurst.
“Paul had actually ridden on the tandem in the ’74 Commonwealth Games competition which Ernie and I won; he was paired with Paul Harland and they took the bronze medal.
“He was born in Scunthorpe so qualified as a Brit too, we won the Nationals in ’75 but not before Dave Rowe and Dave Le Grys had fetched us off.
“I was in a mess, covered in track burns and subsequently discovered that I’d won the championship with a fractured pelvis.
“Paul and I were both in the Raleigh-backed VC Europa after that.”
And whilst you were on the podium in the individual sprint, you never won it.
“I was second a couple of times – I think that perhaps I gave too much to the tandem?
“When I started coaching in 1979 I promised myself I’d never race on the tandem again – despite the fact that I had offers from some notable riders to pair up with them.”
Were you ever full time on the bike back in the 70’s?
“I never, ever didn’t work, I was married at 21 years-of-age; I had responsibilities, a mortgage.
“I was a draughtsman with Rolls Royce and then moved into leisure centre management – I remember having to plead for time off to go to the Olympics.”
Your coaching career, who did you work with?
“I have great memories of that time, I was National Coach from 1979 until 1989 and think I contributed to their lives, great riders like Chris Boardman, Paul McHugh, Mark Barry, Colin Sturgess, Shaun Wallace…
“I only quit because I was moving up the ladder in my ‘day job’ and need time to study for my professional qualifications.
“Chris Hoy bestowed a great honour upon me, he was asked to nominate two people to carry the Olympic torch on it’s journey through Britain; one was a family member from Scotland and I was the other.”
How did you get into masters racing?
“I did a bit of work with Mick Bennett at the Ever Ready professional team, it was good to be around the sport and I thought to myself; ‘I still have my bike, I’m going to have a go at this masters racing game.’
“I rode the LVRC [League of Veteran Racing Cyclists} track championship and won the sprint.
“Then I rode the World Masters Tack Championship and was second in the time trial and third in the sprint.
“I was on the podium thinking; ‘next time you have to do this properly, Cookie.’
“I did, came back next year and won both titles.”
Your titles, the stats I have are: 61 British, nine European and 46 World – and seven world records?
“And seven World Master Games – the Masters equivalent of the Olympic Games.
“It’s funny because I come up against a lot of riders I competed against at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games back in the 70’s.
“I’ve received huge support from Bush Healthcare who’ve enabled me to travel all over the world to compete – I just wish I’d had support like that back when I was younger.”
What do you do with all the medals?
“I have 230, ranging from East Midlands to British, Commonwealth, Worlds and World Masters Games.
“During lock down I took time to put all the golds on a board – it looks pretty impressive.”
Training then and now?
“I wish I knew back then what I now.
“What’s great is that the Derby track is only 10 or 12 minutes away from my home, that’s such an advantage.
“But I do a lot on the road too, 60 kilometres today, 75 yesterday – which isn’t bad for a 75 year-old.
“I do intervals, standing starts – 300/400 metre efforts and never on a gear less than 50 x 14; we used 48 x 14 in Munich on the tandem but in competition I’ll go as high as 125” in qualifying.”
“‘Back in the day’ I could ride 11.2 seconds 200 meters, now I can still ride low 12 seconds.
“I race with the kids at Derby, distance races too.
“Cycling saved my life, I was a bit of a tearaway and my dad channelled me into cycling – he loved it too.
“If I hadn’t got into cycling I would never have been to World Championships and Olympic Games and enjoyed the good health that I do – you can’t buy health.
“I went from intensive care after a bad crash to winning a World Master in two months.”
I remember those nice Raleighs you rode in your Europa days, how do they compare to what you ride now?
“I loved my Raleighs, I got a phone call out of the blue one day from Gerald O’Donovan who ran the Raleigh Specialist Bicycle Development Unit, he said to me; ‘Geoff, you live within the shadow of our Nottingham factory but don’t ride a Raleigh.’
“I said’ “I’ll be round in five minutes!”
“Gerald actually came up with concept of discs way before Moser used them to break the Hour Record in Mexico; in tests he reckoned they were worth seven seconds in a 4,000 metre team pursuit.
“But carbon frames now are so solid, so light, aerodynamic and responsive.
“Back when Reg Harris used to race they had to gusset the frame at the bottom bracket to handle his power, you wouldn’t have to do that nowadays.”
How do you keep the motivation going, year after year?
“I just want to do it!
“It’s the one thing in life that I’ve been really good at.
“I did 1,053 miles on the turbo trainer in May, if the Worlds Masters goes ahead then I’ll be in shape for it.”
“Eric Thomson and I were second in the Grand Prix of Europe tandem sprint, our back wheel was in front of the winners’ but our machine was shorter – that’s a regret.
“And I’d like to have won the British Individual Sprint Championship.
“But once I realised I was never going to be Eddy Merckx and knew I was going to be a sprinter I embarked on a heck of a journey thanks to the bike – I’ve visited 53 countries and attended seven Royal Garden Parties so I can’t complain.