This season Baden Cooke has undergone the transition from sprinter to trusted domestique and Cycling Australia hopes it can get the best out of him during this year's UCI road world championship elite men's road race on October 3.
Speaking to reporters following the announcement of the nation's elite men's squad yesterday, Cycling Australia's national performance director, Shayne Bannan, said he's confident Cooke can go the distance and help the team's two sprinters, Allan Davis and Matthew Goss.
Some have questioned why the man who won the points classification of the 2003 Tour de France was selected as a domestique when he has spent most of his career as a protected sprinter, while the man he narrowly beat for that title in '03, Robbie McEwen, was left out of the squad. Bannan believes the 'Benalla Bullet' will prove vital to Australia's chances of victory, given his change of role this season.
"Baden Cooke was selected as a worker and solely as a worker, therefore the comparison between him and Robbie [McEwen] is really not significant," said Bannan. "If Robbie went in, he would go as a leader, not a worker. Baden has been selected in this team as a worker, not based on results.
"When you look at Baden's results, you don't actually see many there - I think his best result this year was 13th in Gent-Wevelgem. We're not looking at results, we're looking at his work rate capacity in the first 200km."
While Cooke started the season with a new squad that boasted Classics powerhouse Fabian Cancellara, he was hoping to boost the team's sprinting stocks, adding his presence to that of Juan José Haedo and Matti Breschel, who have enjoyed reasonable success in that area over recent years.
Instead he has evolved into a domestique for sprint stages and the Northern Classics, helping Cancellara to Flanders and Roubaix glory. Bannan explained that it's for this reason Cooke was selected, given the possibility of a sprinter triumphing in Geelong.
"He's in the Saxo Bank team and they had a very successful campaign during the Classics and a lot of the one-day races. A lot of the work Baden Cooke has done in the initial part of those races - primarily in the first 200km - has really helped set up the team. That's what we were looking at Baden Cooke for; his experience," said Bannan.
"He's more than likely not going to finish the race - we're going to have to sacrifice him early, but his abilities to protect the leaders, to keep them out of the wind, to make sure they're in good position, to assist in some of the decision making during the race is going to be quite valuable to this team."
He joins a star-studded cast of support riders, all of whom have won big races during their careers but head into this year's world titles as domestiques, the strongest of nearly any nation competing in Geelong.
"We see Baden, along with Mat Hayman, Michael Rogers, O'Grady and Wesley Sulzberger as the nucleus of the protection for the leaders and to get them to the critical part of the race. I'm confident that he'll be able to go the distance that we require of him, which would be determined by how early or late we need to use him," said Bannan.
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