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Last Updated: Friday, 25 July, 2003, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Cooke fulfils potential
By Matt Majendie

Sprinter Baden Cooke has gone from a "kamikaze" to a green jersey winner in the space of a few weeks.

Baden Cooke
Cooke has been in electric form in the sprints

The Australian had already powered his way to a Tour de France stage victory before he edged out compatriot Robbie McEwen on the line on the Champs Elysees.

And in the process the 24-year-old has turned his reputation from one of the Tour's mad men to a serious sprinter.

In the Dauphine Libere, the traditional Tour warm-up, Cooke was blamed for a horrific crash, leading to disparaging remarks from his team-mates.

But Britain's David Millar feels Cooke gets a hard time.

Millar said: "That's what everyone says whenever there's a crash - it must be Baden.

"But half of the guys who are up at the front of the peloton when it happens shouldn't even be there. They're mad."

Whether he continues to retain his "kamikaze" nickname remains to be seen. But Cooke is unperturbed.

Cooke, who was fourth in last year's green jersey competition, told the BBC Sport website before he claimed the points title: "I'm already feeling much better than last year.

COOKE FACTFILE
DOB: 12/11/78
POB: Benalla, Australia
Residence: Nice, France; Melbourne, Australia
Career highlights: Tour de France green jersey
Tour stage two victory

"I'm taking each sprint as it comes at the moment but I'll just have to see how I get on. Of course the green jersey is the goal.

"But, after a difficult year, that win on stage two was satisfaction enough."

Since the end of 2002, Cooke has been hit by illness and a series of injuries.

He regained fitness in time for the start of this season but, just as he was looking to be approaching top form, was hit by a stomach bug.

Such ailments, matched by a series of race crashes, have seen his outings seriously reduced.

"Because of all that, it's difficult to know exactly what I can achieve," said Cooke.

Bradley McGee
McGee has helped create a relaxed mood at FDJeux.com

"It's been a tough year for me. But I always seem to have problems so I guess this year is no different from any previously.

"I've had a year off previously so at least this season has been marginally better."

Cooke says tries to relax as much as possible away from the saddle despite the intesity of the battle among the sprinters.

The FDJeux.com rider is just one of a trio of Australians at the team, along with Matthew Wilson and Bradley McGee, who took the yellow jersey on day three.

And Carlos da Cruz, also a member of the French team, believes Cooke is among those helping the team to be more laid back despite the building pressure.

Da Cruz said: "All three of the guys are laid back. They love music and whenever they're relaxing they stick some techno or house on - they're just totally chilled."

And already that recipe seems to be having the right affect on Cooke.

Cooke said: "There's a great atmosphere in the team. There's little more you need to perform your best with the sort of support I have."





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