Speedway: Craig Cook seizing his second chance with Monarchs

CRAIG COOK has been labelled the “Renaissance Man” and it is a deserved title. The Edinburgh Monarchs heat leader has been sparkling like a cachet of diamonds so far this season, yet a few short months ago it wasn’t exactly crystal clear if he would even pull on a Monarchs race-jacket for the 2012 campaign.

Towards the end of last season Cook, by his own admission, allowed his head to go down on several occasions, and some critics believed the Englishman suffered a crisis of confidence that threatened to derail his career in the sport.

Monarchs, who had snapped the rider up when Workington Comets surprisingly let him go from Derwent Park, became jittery about offering him a new contract but, in the end, rightly concluded that he deserved a second chance to prove his true self at Armadale.

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And Monarchs have not had any cause to question their decision as Cook is currently riding with great distinction from the No. 1 berth, having rediscovered his focus which had become blurred in 2011.

Cook says: “I don’t really want to dwell on what happened at the end of last season. That’s in the past and there is no point in looking back. Certain things happened that shouldn’t have but right now I’m enjoying my speedway and that is very important for me.

“My dad is also travelling everywhere with me this year and this is allowing me to concentrate solely on my racing. In addition, my bikes are running well and I’m happy with my set-ups and if you are confident about your machinery that makes such a difference to any speedway rider.”

Cook is currently in the top five of the published Premier League averages, which is a black-and-white testament to the high scores that he is consistently posting. His most recent 14-point haul at Redcar Bears last Thursday couldn’t prevent Monarchs from going down to a 54-41 defeat, but every time Cook racks up a double figure it should have the effect of galvanising his team-mates to replicate his exploits.

“I was pretty pleased with how I rode at Redcar,” says Cook. “I came in last in my first ride when I missed the start and got sandwiched between two Redcar riders but after I changed some things on my bike I only dropped one point from my remaining rides and I’ve got to be happy with that.

“I came out for the top scorers’ race and was looking to win it, but the referee adjudged I got a flier from the tapes and ordered a re-run. I didn’t make a good enough start but finished second and I was satisfied with that. I really think we deserved to leave with a point but we lost a killer 5-1 in heat 14 and that ended our hopes, but the team turned in a decent performance and that’s all we can ask of ourselves.”

Cook has not been in speedway that long and already has been acquainted with some of its pitfalls, but he is determined to progress to the top – which means the Elite League could be his final destination. He has, though, dropped hints that he would like to try his luck abroad at some point in the future.

Cook doubled up for Belle Vue Aces last season but the malaise he endured with Monarchs also manifested itself down south and this did not go unnoticed by Aces team manager Jim Lynch.

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As part of his winter strategy, Cook made up his mind not to ride in the top flight this year, choosing instead to set his sights on becoming a No. 1 in the Premier League. However, with his new found professionalism yielding some extraordinary and consistent scores, word quickly filtered down to Belle Vue that Cook was in the form of his life for Monarchs.

Cook also assisted his cause by performing a U-turn about doubling up and when Aces star Claus Vissing was sidelined with injury, Lynch moved quickly to sign him up as replacement cover.

And last Monday, under the gaze of the Sky TV cameras, Cook made his 2012 debut for the Aces – and some debut it was. Cook picked up nine points but, more significantly, he defeated Wolverhampton’s Swedish Grand Prix winner Freddie Lindgren twice, helping the Aces to their first league win of the season.

“It was pretty awesome,” says Cook,” and it’s great to be back at Belle Vue and I must thank Jim Lynch for giving me a second chance.”

Lynch said: “Craig’s positivity waned towards the end of last season but the people at Edinburgh told me he was riding a crest and I’m delighted he has rejoined us. And he certainly won’t forget the night he beat Lindgren twice.”

If Cook can supply more of the same, Monarchs, and not just Belle Vue, will be grateful indeed.