When GreenEdge's designated leader Matt Goss told his teammates that he didn't have the legs to compete for the win on stage 2 of the Tour of Oman, Baden Cooke threw his hat into the ring to contest the sprint.
Although the Australian was denied victory by Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), his second place finish vindicated his decision to step up to the plate. In a roster laden with sprinting talent, he was mindful that such opportunities to compete for the win will be at a premium throughout the year.
"We've got a pretty complete team here, so I'm not expecting to have a bucket load of chances, so today when Gossy wasn't up, I put my hand up and I was glad I could get some kind of a result," Cooke said shortly after crossing the line overlooking Wadi Dayqah Dam.
"There were a couple of guys who were good today. Allan Davis was also there and Sebastiaan Langeveld was good too, but I said in this campaign this was the first time I put my hand right up, so they respected that and let me have a go."
Goss was an absentee from GreenEdge's Tour of Qatar line-up, but while Cooke could well have had other opportunities to try his luck in the sprint there, he felt that his form last week was not sufficient to merit his teammates' help.
"We have so many options that I said I wouldn't put my hand up unless I was good," he said. "So in Qatar there wasn't any one day that I put my hand up, but today I knew I was good."
As the race entered the final 30 kilometres, the breakaway had a lead of three minutes over the peloton, and the chase was beginning to organise itself behind. It was at this point that Goss decided to weigh in behind a teammate rather than tackle the sprint himself.
"When Gossy told me he wasn't up, we either did nothing or someone else put their hand up. I said I was good," Cooke said. "I'm not going to put my hand up to run 10th."
The technical finale to stage two was well-suited to Cooke's talents, and he used all of his guile to ease his way into position ahead of André Greipel on the final bend.
"I tried to take Sagan's wheel with 500 to go and Greipel took it back off me and I went behind," he said. "With 400 to go, I saw he was hurting, so I jumped up beside him and sort of boxed him in, and then jumped to go through the corner first."
In the finishing straight, however, the prodigious Sagan burst past to take an emphatic victory. Cooke was fulsome in his praise of the young Slovak. "He's freakishly talented, it's no disgrace to be beaten by that guy. He's capable of anything. He's a bit like Gilbert, but he's a little bit more of a sprinter."
Nonetheless, Cooke refused to be downhearted to have missed out on the win, with his form heading in the right direction as he heads towards the start of his European campaign. "It's a very good sign," he said. "I've done a heap of training, but nothing's the same as racing at this level."
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