By Hedwig Kröner
Australian Baden Cooke, who recently won the GP d'Ouverture de la Marseillaise for the second time in his career, is looking forward to riding the Belgian Classics. After changing teams from ProTeam Francaise des Jeux to Continental outfit Unibet.com, the 27 year-old has many reasons to confirm his talents on the tarmac.
"The Belgian Classics: Het Volk, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix are my main goals this season," Cooke told Cyclingnews on the eve of the Ruta del Sol from Southern Spain. "Changing teams has given me the opportunity of changing my focus on the classics; and I will give them everything this year. Hopefully I'll be able to do something special this spring."
Coming back from Australia in mid-January, where he had done much training in the gym to round out his cycling sessions, the 'Benalla bullet' was almost immediately rewarded of his efforts. At the GP d'Ouverture de la Marseillaise, his new team Unibet.com was right to put its confidence in him. "In the earpiece, I told my directeur sportif that I felt good, and [with 20 km to go] 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. Considering I had never raced with these guys before, this really shows a lot. It's just a perfect way of entering a new team."
Although he does regret not being part of a ProTour team anymore ("Obviously, I would like to go back to the Tour de France"), Cooke is happy with Unibet.com. "The team's got a great spirit - after the presentation in Brussels in January, we had really good bonding sessions and I realized they're really good guys, also the directeurs sportifs. And their goal is to upgrade to the ProTour for next season, so I'd like to be a part of that."
At the Ruta del Sol, Cooke and his Unibet.com teammates hope for a possibility to achieve a stage victory, although the Australian sees the Spanish stage race as a means to prepare for greater goals. "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 sprinter said, knowing that the likes of Tom Boonen and Alessandro Petacchi will not be easily beaten. "The first few days are a bit tough, but there might be sprint finishes on the last couple of stages."
Cyclingnews will feature a full interview with Baden Cooke in the coming days.