Finding top gear again

It's been quite some time between drinks for Unibet.com rider Baden Cooke. After the highs of the...

An interview with Baden Cooke, May 11, 2006

It's been quite some time between drinks for Unibet.com rider Baden Cooke. After the highs of the 2003 Tour de France, the Australian has found wins hard to come by, something he's aiming to rectify. Cyclingnews’ Shane Stokes found out more during Ridley's media day at the Zolder racetrack.

Baden Cooke took the maillot vert as best sprinter in the 2003 Tour de France, but since then he’s found it tough to reach quite the same heights. A leg injury was partly to blame, but a re-motivated Cooke seemed to be back on the right track late in 2005 and early in 2006 when he won two stages of the Herald Sun Tour and triumphed in the Grand Prix Ouverture La Marseillaise.

At the end of last season Cooke changed teams from Francaise des Jeux to Unibet.com. Although moving from a ProTour team to a Continental Professional outfit, he maintained hope that the team would make it to at least one of the Grand Tours, ideally the Tour de France. However, when the wildcards were announced for the Giro, Vuelta and Tour, Cooke and the rest of the Belgian squad were shocked to discover that their ticket to ride had been lost along the way. They had been overlooked for each of the three races.

The 27-year-old had gone into the season with a different focus, though, and while he was still very disappointed, his new approach softened the blow slightly. Like sprinters such as Sean Kelly and Johan Museuuw before him, he was aiming to convert that fast-twitch final-kilometre horsepower into classics strength. Cooke had certainly shown in the past that he was more than just a galloper, winning races such as the Tro Bro Leon, Herald Sun Tour and a sixth place overall in the Tour de l’Avenir.

He worked hard during the winter, and while it didn’t quite pay off with a classics win, Cooke posted several solid results which suggest that he’s got a future in this discipline. After taking 10th in the Grand Prix E3 as a warmup to the bigger races, he was 14th in Gent-Wevelgem, 17th in Paris-Roubaix and 21st in the Tour of Flanders.

Cyclingnews: How are things with the new team?

Baden Cooke: It's good; there's some really good morale here. It's completely different to where I was. It's really relaxed, and they're a good bunch of guys. It is disappointing that we are not doing any of the grand tours, though; I sort of expected that we would at least do one. So that sort of leaves a bit of a hole. The sponsors are really motivated to go ProTour so they will basically throw any money at it, wherever a licence comes up. They are prepared to put in ten million [euros] straight away if they get the licence.

If it was based on only money we would get in, but obviously there are more things involved. Ideally, I would like to stay with this group, for us to go ProTour and take it from there. But it is hard to get a licence, and I heard now that they might be even cutting it down to 18 teams. It would be very tough to get one if they do that.

Other than that, we have stepped up from where they were before. They were a small team for so long, but now are all really motivated. The Unibet management are interested in what you've got to say, any constructive criticism about anything that needs to be changed, and again they are going out of their way to try to make it one of the bigger teams. We've got a chance; we've got riders such as Quesada who can ride the big tours - we've got the backup, and I think that we might have some big signings for next year, too.

CN: How are you feeling this year, form-wise?

BC: Really good. It has been…I feel like it has been the opposite of what happened at the beginning of my career. The beginning of my career I wouldn’t be feeling so good but I would pull off some wins. This year I have been feeling 20% stronger but I've only managed one win. Obviously, if you target the classics, it's pretty hard to win. I was really consistent, but I was really expecting to be in the top ten of the classics I targeted. It didn’t happen for different reasons, but I guess everyone has got a sob story in the classics, don’t they…except the winner!

CN: What have you done differently this year?

BC: Well, I fully targeted the classics for the first time, because I know there was no Tour as a plan A. I just put everything into the classics. I actually haven’t been home for a month, I've learned all the climbs in the Flanders region. I actually know them all by name now, and a lot of the run-ins. Not as good as the Belgians, but a lot better than before when I was following wheels.

Next year I will be another step up, knowing the roads, and I think that's the best thing for me to do; coming up to the classics, I'll move to Belgium for that period. It's just that the whole country is cycling mad – they're all taking bikes, it's in the newspapers and everyone is asking ‘are you racing this race?’ It is a pretty exciting time to be here.

Normally I live in Monaco. Down there nobody gives a s*** about cycling, though, nobody knows anyone and no-one cares. But for that period in Belgium, it's incredible!

CN: So what are you targeting for the rest of the year, not having a grand tour to ride?

BC: Well, the end of season classics and the world championships. Those one day races in September and October. If you win one or two of those then it's a good year.

We're doing a lot of other smaller races and if you rack up a few wins, it can still be a good season. It's not that much harder to win in the grand tours than it is to win in the smaller tours. It's still hard to win, but you won’t get the same recognition. But all I can do is win the races that we do, so the team will hopefully be happy.

CN: You're here at Zolder, getting in a couple of high speed laps on the track. How does a race car differ to a bike, though, in terms of handling?

BC: It’s tricky to get the hang of it. While I wasn’t driving today, I did a bit over the winter. The guys there told me that the theories are the same as riding a bike; when you are going into a corner you shouldn’t be looking down but instead be looking where you are going. I could do it on the bike but when I was in the car I just couldn’t get the hang of it. It comes more naturally on the bike!

I have got a few nice cars, and I drive them pretty fast. But when you get on the track you realise that these guys really have some skills.

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