Says riders offered only six month guarantees
By Shane Stokes
Australian sprinter Baden Cooke blasted Rock Racing team owner Michael Ball, stating that he is planning on suing the businessman for breach of contract and that the other riders on the team have been left with very uncertain futures.
According to Cooke, a former winner of the Tour de France's green jersey, Ball has told riders that he will guarantee payment of their contracts for the next six months only, and that if replacement sponsors are not found in that time, the team will fold. They also face a greatly reduced racing programme, with previous plans to race in Europe now almost totally replaced by a US-based schedule.
"I'm really unhappy about what happened," Cooke told Cyclingnews. "In mid-November I was given a two-year contract by Rock for decent money. I signed it, sent it back, and for the next five or six weeks I constantly asked for them to send me a signed copy back.
"I was told [by team managers], 'Your money is guaranteed, don't worry about the contract, the project is fine, everything is good.' This went on for five weeks. I didn't have my contract and didn't know what to do. I finally asked to have direct contact with Michael Ball. I sent him a message asking what was going on, and the next day he rang me and said that there is no budget, no team, no bikes nothing.
"He said that 'the team is done, but I am going to personally put in enough money for the team to go forward for six months. In this time we hope to find a sponsor. So, what I guarantee you is six months of your contract, six months racing, and if we get a sponsor, I will pay you all of it [the two year deal]. If we don't, you have nothing.'"
Cooke heard that a few days before Christmas and said the news hit him hard. "Obviously I was devastated. I went from good money for two years to a six month contract. When I first talked to them, the team was going to do the Giro, were going to do the Classics, they were going to do everything. Then later they were already saying that they will give me my money but they might only be doing a couple of races in Europe, and the rest might be in America. That is obviously a big step down from the Tour de France."
Rock Racing originally planned to apply for a Professional Continental licence, but ultimately stayed at the Continental level. The team claimed that it withdrew the application in order to have greater flexibility, but Cooke now questions if it was already in financial trouble at that point. "Looking back now, obviously they knew things were going pear shaped when they didn't apply for the pro continental licence. They didn't tell us then why didn't they tell us?
"Michael Ball is making out that he is the greatest guy, he is going to pay out of his own pocket. Look, I don't care whose pocket it is coming out of, I just want the contract promised me. If he knew there is no team, how can he send me a contract for two years and then not sign it? The words on the contract were the words that he wrote, they were not my words."
29-year-old Cooke has since inked a deal with the Vacansoleil team, and plans to target the Classics plus the Giro d'Italia. He hopes that the Dutch squad is selected for the latter, as well as Tirreno-Adriatico.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for an in-depth interview with Cooke coming soon.