An interview with Baden Cooke, February 17, 2006
Sometimes a little step backwards can become a leap in the right direction - after trading his ProTeam Francaise des Jeux in for new Continental pro outfit Unibet.com, Australia's Baden Cooke began the 2006 racing season with victory at the GP d'Ouverture de la Marseillaise. Motivated to prove his worth and lead the team to the next level, the 'Benalla bullet' told Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner about injury concerns and what's in store for 2006.
Green jersey winner at the 2003 Tour de France, Cooke has had a tough couple of years since winning that prize; he's not only changed teams in 2006 but his objectives for the year are vitally different. Instead of chasing the bigger stage races, the 27-year-old from Benalla, in country Victora, will be out for wins in the Belgian Classics. Shaping up to peak at one-day races like Het Volk, Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix is a lot different to tailoring his form to last over the three weeks of a grand tour, and as such has requires a different approach.
Cooke started this season in the gym back in Australia, and after racing the Herald Sun Tour didn't ride the country's biggest stage race, the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, because his new team Unibet.com weren't competing at the event. He came out with all guns blazing and won France's season opener, GP de La Marseillaise, making it a perfect start to his 2006 account - so he's doing something right. While he still has racing to get into his legs before the spring madness begins, he's already focussed on those months in Belgium where the bike is king and only the toughest riders survive.
Cyclingnews: Congratulations on your second win at GP d'Ouverture - tell me about the race.
Baden Cooke: "I'd already won the race before [in 2004], so I knew what to expect; I knew the course. In the weeks leading up to it, I trained really well and I adapted to the cold weather in Europe really quickly, so I knew I felt good. Plus, it was my first race with the new team so I was very keen to do something. I was getting over the hills fairly easily and I thought that a few of my team mates were going really strong, too. So by the time I got over the final climb with about 20 kilometres to go - there was a breakaway - I said a couple of words to my director in the earpiece. I told him 'I'm still here, I feel good.'
"Immediately, five guys moved up from behind and got to the front. They started riding and pulled the breakaway back with about one kilometre to go. It was really close, and a really consistent effort. It's just a perfect way of entering a new team. Considering I had never raced with these guys before, what they pulled off for me shows a lot."
CN: What can you tell me about the team change? When did you meet your new team mates?
BC: "I left Australia on January 15, and then the following weekend we had the team presentation in Brussels. That's where we all met, and we had really good bonding sessions; I realised that my team mates were really good guys, and got to discuss things with all the directors."
CN: What are your goals for this season, now that you've started it so well?
BC: "Certainly, it's the Belgian Classics - Het Volk, Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix. Changing teams has given me the opportunity to change my focus on the classics; and I will give them everything this year. Hopefully I'll be able to do something special this spring."
CN: Are you bothered not to be part of the ProTour anymore?
BC: "It would be good to be able to choose and do some of the bigger races, but it really doesn't affect me that much. Obviously, I would like to go back to the Tour de France...but considering that I'm focussing on the Classics this year, I'll get to do them anyway. My build-up to these races with the team is just about perfect, so it doesn't really affect me. It's not a big problem."
CN: How come you chose Unibet?
BC: "I always thought that a Belgian team would suit me. After looking at the programme, the plans, the team mates and the sponsor and comparing them with the other offers, my manager and I chose to go down that path. And as it turns out, Unibet has a really strong spirit. Their main goal is to participate at all the grand tours this year, and eventually become part of the Pro Tour for next season. Of course I'd like to be part of that. But they've told me last year that they wanted me to perform early in the season, so that's what I'm trying to do at the moment."
CN: Do you find it very different to Francaise des Jeux?
BC: "Of course - the Belgian teams are totally different to the French ones. The main difference is that one of the team's main languages is English, so it's really nice to be able to speak English again."
CN: How important was it to bring along Matt Wilson?
BC: "Oh - I wouldn't have come if he didn't come. We worked together for the last four years, and before that, we were on the national team together. We're not only friends; we train together and we know how to motivate each other. He's a big help to me in the races, too, so that's something I didn't want to miss."
CN: Do you still have problems with your hamstring?
BC: "It's improved since last year as I worked a lot on it throughout the season and during the off-season. It still goes numb occasionally, though, so I'm still in therapy for that."
CN: How did you prepare for this season?
BC: "I did a lot of work in the gym in the off-season in Australia, two or three times a week. I worked on my power and strength, and hopefully that will show in my sprinting this year. That's the main preparation I did other than regular training, of course."
CN: Next is the Ruta del Sol - is that one next step on the road to Paris-Roubaix to you or will you take your chances?
BC: "Obviously, I'm here to get more racing into my legs, but if there's a win on my way then I'll certainly try and take my chances. The first few days are a bit tough, but there might be sprint finishes on the last couple of stages."
CN: What's on the plan for the second half of the season?
BC: "It depends if we do the Vuelta - I'd be up for that if we do, but if not, I'll come back for the end of the season classics."