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An interview with Baden Cooke
Bring on the Champs Elysées
By Gabriella Ekström
The man they nickname the Cookie Monster because of his voracious appetite for stage wins is already one-up on his Aussie sprinting counterparts McEwen and O'Grady. But Baden Cooke doesn't want any stage win - he wants to win the grand finale of sprints along the Champs Elysées.
Remember the final stage that finished on the Champs Elysées last year, where Robbie McEwen secured his green jersey by winning the final stage ahead of a young Baden Cooke riding his first Tour de France?
Second on the grand finale of sprints is not a bad result if you're riding your first Tour, and one would believe that it must have been a real moral boost to finish with all but one rider behind you on such a stage.
Think again. That is not true if you are an aggressive sprinter in a sport where second only means you're the first loser.
"I was quite disappointed actually," says Cooke when I catch up with him, on his way back to the hotel, hassled and hampered by the Paris traffic. "I was so motivated during the last week, and during that time my focus was all set on the last stage. I really thought I could win it."
Last year's race certainly spoke volumes about his future, even if it didn't reward him with a stage win. "I can't really say what impact my race last year will have on this edition of the race," he says. "It has been a whole year since last time. I did score a win in Tour de Suisse, but even with that, it is really hard to tell."
Now that he has been there and done that, does he think things that will be different this year? "Yes, I believe I am more relaxed now, as I have done the race before, and hopefully I won't get wound up, but can focus more on the race."
Of course, there will be some competition for the stage wins and when asked about his main competitors for the sprints; Baden lists Petacchi, McEwen and Zabel. "Alessandro Petacchi is very good at he moment, so I reckon he will be the man to beat," says Cooke. "Eric Zabel just came off with a stage win, and then there's Robbie McEwen, and he's always good."
This year's edition is said to be extra special, because of the 100 year anniversary that will lead to even more coverage by media. Is it possible that this could affect the riders, or do they think the Tour is crazy enough, even when it is not its 100th birthday?
"To be honest, I don't think it'll affect me at all. I'm actually looking forward to it all. I just want to get on with the race and do what I am here to do, and I don't think the stress around the race will have a major impact on my performance."
Something that could have affected his performance though, was his crash in the Dauphiné Libéré, just two weeks before the start of the Tour. "It did upset my race program and my form, not to mention it was very, very painful," says Baden.
"As it turned out though, I'm pretty much fine now. I had a few days off the bike, and then I rode Tour de Suisse where I bagged a stage at the finale, so it's looking good now. I lost a few days, but it shouldn't affect my overall condition."
With that stated, the future certainly looks good for Cooke, for the Tour and beyond. Final question: Will his parents come to see him in Paris again to hopefully see him win?
"Oh, they're already here."