Finding top gear again
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 Française 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 Museeuw 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.
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