Baden Cooke Interview: Racing back to the big time
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Monday, January 18, 2010

Baden Cooke Interview: Racing back to the big time

by Conal Andrews at 6:36 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour Down Under
 

In a matter of hours the opening stage of the Santos Tour Down Under will begin in Clare and travel 141 undulating kilometres to Tanunda. Despite the inclusion of Menglers Hill, a bunch sprint is the most likely outcome and if so, a number of riders should be in contention.

One of those who fancies his chances is Baden Cooke. The 31 year old Victoria rider is making his ProTour debut with the Saxo Bank team and is more motivated than he has been in a long while. Cooke won the Green Jersey in the 2003 Tour de France but the years since then have been more marked by disappointments than by success, by frustrations rather than good fortune.

His time racing with Unibet is an example. Three years ago, the team found itself as a puppet in the ProTour squabble between the UCI and the Grand Tour organisers and, through no fault of its own, was blocked from riding many major events. It missed more big races than it rode and ultimately collapsed.

Those disappointments are in the past. Cooke now has a golden opportunity to get back to the top in 2010. He’s a good sprinter and has a lot of potential as a Classic rider, having already taken top-five finishes in Paris-Brussels and Paris Tours, as well as sixth in the 2005 Gent-Wevelgem.

His aim is to step things up a level in single day events, either in clocking up his own strong results or in helping team-mates such as former Paris-Roubaix winners Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O’Grady.

Further ahead, he entertains hopes of grabbing Grand Tour stage wins and perhaps, perchance, a rainbow jersey on home soil.

Looking at the immediate future, his first target is the Santos Tour Down Under. He’s been training hard and will be Saxo Bank’s likely team leader there. The Danish squad wants to start grabbing victories and ranking points early on, knowing that success will help in the hunt for a new main backer.

Cooke will also be keen to get things off to a good start, boosting his morale at the start of a season which is crucial to getting his career back on track. He spoke to Velonation.com on Monday, giving his thoughts on his recent past, his current form and his future goals.


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Velonation: You were fifth in the Cancer Council Helpline Classic on Sunday – how’s your form?

Baden Cooke: I am feeling really good. Yesterday wasn’t really that suited to me, but I think I’ll be better once the roads get a bit harder and the races get a bit longer, as I am pretty fit at the moment. But it was a good opener for the legs.

VN: A lot of people are remarking that you look very lean, you seem fit. Do you think your form is better than in previous years for this time of the season?

BC: Well, I usually come here in pretty good condition but this year I have different goals…I have the goal of going for the overall this year, whereas in the past I wasn’t really going for the general classification. So I think I am in better condition.

VN: Who do you see as the main riders to watch?

BC: Well, obviously you have got [André] Greipel. I don’t know how well he is going but he is always very strong. Then you have got guys like Greg Henderson who is going extremely fast at the moment; it will just be a question of whether he can get over the hill [Willunga] or not, but I think if his team looks after him, he possibly will do.

I am not sure if [Allan] Davis is in as good form as last year…actually, I am pretty sure he is not, so I don’t think he will be a contender, getting over the hill. Last year he was in exceptional form.

So I guess Greipel would be the favourite.

VN: What did you do over the winter to get ready for this season?

BC: I started at the team training camp in Spain. That is where we got to know everyone in the team. We did commando bonding sessions there, which started things off. Brad McGee took over my training programme then and he has been guiding me for a couple of months now. It is good to have someone looking over your shoulder, training-wise. It’s more not to do too much, rather than not doing enough. Usually I’d probably do a bit too much at this time of year. So he was just keeping the leash on me…

VN: Brad has been a mate of yours for a few years…

BC: Yes, we have been mates for thirteen years or something…

VN: Was he important in helping you find the slot with the team?

BC: Yeah…Brad was also important in me coming to Française des Jeux many years ago. He recommended me back then and that worked out well, and this time he recommended me again.

VN: So do you have a one-year deal?

BC: Yes…the team has only got a sponsor for one year. We are aiming to get some good results early to help with that search.

VN: The past few seasons have brought a fair few frustrating moments, such as your former team Unibet being blocked from some of the top races due to the ProTour battle between the UCI and the Grand Tour organisers.

So moving to a ProTour team like Saxo Bank is a big opportunity a big chance. When you signed the contract, were you given goals and an idea of what role you would be playing?

BC: Well the team certainly wants to make ProTour points straight away. It was mentioned that if I could already be good here Down Under, that would be the first objective. From there, it was to be really good at the Classics; to support Fabian and Stuey there, and to be in good enough condition to win myself, if needs be.

VN: What is your previous best result in a Classic?

BC: Well, I have had placings in Gent-Wevelgem, Paris-Tours, Het Volk. Those were probably the most suited to me. With having early condition now, I think it would be reasonable to aim to be on the podium at Het Volk [now called Het Nieuwsblad].

VN: And to hold form until the end of the Classics season, presumably….

BC: Yes, that’s right.

VN: Looking past that point, have you been told what other races you are going to do?

BC: I am going to do the Giro. We have only got our programme until the Tour; it is not expected that I will do that, the team is pretty much selected. That’s not all bad – I would like to do the Vuelta with a mind to preparing for the worlds.

VN: Some guys consider that the Giro-Vuelta programme should be pretty good for the worlds this year, as it gives you a break in the middle, and then you can build back up for the end of the season….

BC: Yeah…basically, if a spot comes up at the Tour, I will be happy to go. But doing the Giro and the Vuelta would be also good.

VN: Are stage wins there the target for those races?

BC: Yeah, that’s my goal. I will be working on my sprint leading up to the Giro, trying to win a stage there in a bunch sprint.

VN: What are your impressions of the Worlds course in Geelong?

BC: It is quite hard, but I think it is doable. I think it could be a sprinter that wins, but it is not a sprinter’s course. Someone like Freire could easily win it, but I don’t expect it to be a bunch sprint at all. It could be a reduced-size group sprinting it out. It should be a great race.
 

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