Season 2014 is the first since 1999 that Victorian, Baden Cooke won’t be pinning on a number; after 14 seasons as a professional he’s called ‘time’ on what was a highly successful career to move into rider management.
And whilst he’s not yet through his exams and officially a UCI Agent, he’s already enjoyed success in the role unofficially ‘helping out’ with placing Chris Horner at Lampre when things were beginning to look bleak for history’s oldest Grand Tour winner.
It was 2000 when Cooke turned pro with US team Mercury taking wins in the USA, Republic of South Africa and Australia – but more importantly one in France, the Prix des Bles d’Or where he beat a certain Sylvain Chavanel.
The next year he was still in the Mercury colours and despite the team ultimately fizzling out there were multiple wins in the USA and two stage wins in the Tour de l’Avenir.
French pro teams use the race as a shop window and sure enough in 2002 the Aussie was with F des J and immediately tasting success with wins in the cult Tro Bro Leon and the tough Dwars door Vlaanderen.
The 2003 season was arguably his best ever and the year he took a stage win and the green jersey in the Tour de France for his French équipe.
The following season he was still with the lottery team and won the GP Ouverture as well as stages in the Tour of the Mediterranean and Three Days of De Panne.
Season 2005 was his last with F des J and saw stage wins in the Tour of Poland and Herald Sun Tour back in his native Oz.
The ill-starred Unibet squad was home for the next two seasons; the team being used as a political ping pong ball by ASO with the UCI doing shamefully little to protect it.
Despite the intrigue ‘Cookie’ again won the GP Ouverture and the little known outside Belgium but highly prestigious and tough Halle-Imgooigem in 2006 and the flat, fast and furious Championship of Flanders in Koolscamp in 2007.
Barloworld – one time home to the likes of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas – was the name on the jersey for 2008 with a win in the Clasica Alcobendas as the highlight.
There were podiums but no significant wins with Vacansoleil in 2009 and for 2010 he was with Saxo Bank, taking a Bay Crit win in Australia and a criterium victory in St. Quentin as well as working hard for Bjarne’s boys.
There were top 10’s in Dwars door and Gent-Wevelgem with Saxo in 2011 before his move to GreenEdge for 2012 and a share in the team’s Tirreno TTT triumph.
Last season saw him ride the Vuelta as his farewell to top line competition.
He recently took time to answer a few questions for VeloVeritas…
Did you always plan to stay in Europe after your career as a rider finished?
“Yes, Europe is my home.
“I’m not ready to go back to Australia just yet.
“I aim to build my business and spend most of my time in Europe for the time being.”
Why did you chose to go down the agency road rather than a DS – you have so much knowledge?
“I would enjoy being a DS and thing that I have much to offer; however I felt that my skills are also very well suited to being an agent.
“I enjoy negotiation and think that this will be my calling.”
Isn’t the agency world becoming a little crowded?
“Yes it certainly is very competitive.
“I aim to offer something a little different; I’ll offer my riders a more holistic service.
“I’ll provide my riders with training advice and generally help them arrange their lives so that their cycling can thrive.”
What’s involved in the exams to be an agent?
“I’ll complete the exams in September in Switzerland.
“It’s a two day course and exams to make sure that the agents know the UCI rules and regulations.”
You were a pro a long time – what were the biggest changes you witnessed?
“Certainly the biggest change that I have seen is the changes is training techniques.
“The training has become so high-tech over the last ten years that if you are not using the latest techniques you’re falling behind.”
Which performances during your career give you most sense of achievement?
“Obviously winning the Green jersey was my finest moment and gives me the most satisfaction.”
What do you remember as your hardest day in the saddle?
“That’s a stage in the 2002 Tour, in the Alps.
“I had a gigantic saddle sore so big that I had to cut half of my saddle away to be able to sit straight.
“The pace was furious from the beginning and I suffered that day more than ever before – or after.”
Who among your peers impressed you the most?
“I hate to say it but Robbie McEwen was a very impressive competitor.
“He was the ultimate professional and ultimate competitor.”
Who was the best DS you worked with?
“I always liked working with Bjarne Riis.”
Mercury – that must have been a trying time with the team petering out?
“Mercury was some of the best times of my life.
“It was disappointing when it ended like it did – but life goes on.”
Unibet – what are your thoughts on the way the UCI dealt with that situation?
“Unibet was dealt with terribly.
“For those in charge of cycling to allow such a big sponsor to leave the sport is totally irresponsible.
“Sponsors like that don’t come along every day. We as a sport should have welcomed them with open arms.”
A view shared by VeloVeritas and our ‘sage-in-residence’ Viktor we might add; with thanks to Baden and wishing him every success with his new profession.