By Bjorn Haake in Middelkerke
Despite battling illness recently, the Classics remain in Baden Cooke's sights. He missed the crucial opening period of the Spring due to a virus, but Vacansoleil's Australian is aiming to be ready for the big week of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Roubaix.
His sickness was particularly ill-timed. "I did Tirreno and I was just coming into some good form; I finished third in the last stage," Cooke told Cyclingnews. "A day later I was in bed and for eight days I couldn't do anything."
Only several days ago Cooke managed to get back on the bike for an hour-long ride. "I was still really fatigued. Only on Sunday did I do a three-hour ride. Hopefully I haven't lost everything..."
The prolonged sickness prevented him riding Dwars door Vlaanderen and the E3 Prijs, important preparation events for the Classics, and on Saturday Cooke gave some serious thought to racing on Sunday in the Brabantse Pijl. "The sickness was gone, but I had only done one-hour rides. I thought if I did a race I'd just tear myself to pieces."
A longer training ride on Sunday was the option taken. "I think it's safer to start today [Tuesday]." Cooke also explained the terrible timing of his illness. "With the races so hard you can't just miss so much time – I'm hoping to get through the next three days. It'll make it difficult for the Classics but I'll keep trying."
Cooke's Spring aspirations haven't been totally abandoned, however. "Hopefully I'll be able to lend a helping hand to my teammates; for something like Gent-Wevelgem I am still hopeful to get to the finish and hopefully get a result."
Cooke said the team will likely focus on one rider in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. "Björn Leukemans is riding really well, so he's probably the leader for those races."
He hasn't had the ideal start for his new team, Vacansoleil, although Cooke believes that his prospects beyond 2009 are well catered for in the Dutch squad. "It's a really good team and well organised. It's a good mix of experience and talent, a team for the future."
"We will try to do one of the Grand Tours, probably the Vuelta. I think for the next few years this is a team that will be really moving up and getting some good results."