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Aussies in the Tour - Final Report
By Staff
Date: 7/28/2003
Aussies in the Tour - Final Report

July 27th, 2003--"Unbelieveable" was the first reaction of Victorian Baden Cooke, 24, ( today when he achieved a career high in claiming the sprinter’s crown in the Centenary Tour de France after a titanic three week struggle with fellow Australian and 2002 green jersey winner, Queensland’s Robbie McEwen (Lotto Domo).

The 152 kilometres final stage of the 3350 kilometre Centenary Tour de France was won by Frenchman Jean Patrick Nazon, (Jean Delatour), but the most fierce battle of the day was raging between the Australian pair. McEwen went into the stage two points ahead of Cooke after wresting the green jersey from his compatriot two days ago.

As the race headed onto the most famous boulevard in France for the first of eleven circuits the team fired up the lead out train to set up Cooke for victory in the first of the day’s two intermediate sprints.   Cooke delivered to edge out McEwen and claim six points to his rival’s four, tying the points tally but putting the boy from Benalla in country Victoria ahead on a count-back of stage placings (won the second stage).

“After I won the first sprint it gave me a lot of confidence,” said Cooke.

The second sprint, 29 kilometres later, looked set to be a repeat of the first until McEwen roared into action leaving Cooke in his wake and clawing back the two points to again hit the lead. The scene was set for a thrilling finale as Aussie versus Aussie lined up for a colossal showdown but perhaps the attitude of  going into the stage gave him an edge.

“I had meeting with Marc (team director Marc Madiot) this morning and he said, ‘win or lose the team has had an awesome tour and if we win it’s the jackpot and if not I don’t care, we’ve done a great job’,” said Cooke. “My shoulders just dropped, I was so relaxed and not even nervous."

“Robbie was so tense as he had the pressure of his whole team on him and that played into my hands.”

As the race headed out of the Place de la Concorde and onto the Champs Elysees for the final 350 metres again it was the team train leading the way. Cooke hit the front and McEwen countered, and as the final metres sped past Cooke and McEwen leaned into each other and crossed the line locked together in a photo finish for second place.

“I didn’t know I’d got it across the line,” said Cooke, reliving the confusion of the moments immediately after the sprint. “I just forgot about the green in the finale and just thought about the stage win."

“I knew I’d been beaten (by Nazon), then it was like ‘does that mean I win (green), then I thought ‘I had two points and we’re even so do I win,” he explained. “Then I thought ‘no I’m two points ahead’."

“Then I thought ‘Maybe I’ll get scrubbed because I leaned on him’ and then he said ‘Well done, you won,’ and I went ‘All right I guess I win then’.”

Cooke admits McEwen’s acceleration in the second intermediate sprint shattered the confidence he had gained in the first sprint.

“In the first sprint I was on 54-12 (gearing) and I had it kicking along pretty well but on the second sprint I got a bit greedy and went the11 and it was too big and I was really chugging on it,” said Cooke. “He went straight past me.”

“I was really hurting and I couldn’t move up and I couldn’t hold my position but my team was unbelievable,”   he said. “Whenever one of them would blow another one would rock up and move me up and I was like ‘take it easy, take it easy’ cause they were taking me up so hard my legs were hurting.

“Then in the last lap all of a sudden I came to life; it was like I heard the bell and (thought) this is it.”

Cooke will celebrate his win with his team mates and three school friends who had travelled from his hometown of Benalla to cheer him on.

Cooke’s mainstay in his battle today was fellow Australian and team leader, Brad McGee. 27. But McGee suffered another energy sapping hunger flat attack with ten kilometres to go putting the final sprint lead out in doubt. (McGee will undergo medical tests on Wednesday to try to determine the cause of the attacks which have forced him to withdraw from this week’s Track Cycling World Championships in Stuttgart where he had hoped to defend his individual pursuit world title.)

“It was the same old story, you lose concentration, you lose motivation, you’re starting to get hit by riders, you’re losing places and I’m like ‘dude, Baden’s up for the green jersey so I don’t care what’s going on up here you just have to get up there’,” said McGee, who kicked off the team’s Tour success with his victory in the prologue three weeks ago. “(Team mate) Carlos (Da Cruz ) was a bit the same way and I looked at him and said ‘do you have any legs?’ and he said, ‘No I’m finished,’ and I said, ‘Well we’ve got to do it anyway.

“It wasn’t even adrenaline, it was just digging deep and keep pushing the massive gear you’re riding.” Da Cruz was unable to get through the frantic tangle of riders to reach Cooke but McGee made it to the front.

“With two kilometres to go from nowhere he appeared next to me and I thought ‘all right – beauty’ and I followed him through.... And I won it by two inches,” said Cooke, who could not stop praising his team mates for their efforts throughout the race to get him into the right position to contest the sprints. “I was still so relaxed and then I won it by two inches.”

“At the end of the day Baden’s the guy who has to sprint for two or three hundred metres,” said a very proud McGee. “He has to have the legs and the muscle, I just know how to get him there and the team has been learning all tour.

“I told them ‘if you’re going to get on the front and give your legs then you have to do it intelligently’.... they were all up there today and as we’ve improved on what we do Baden has improved as well.”

For McEwen it will be some time before he overcomes the disappointment of today where his main aim was to secure his third Champs Elysees stage victory (he won the final stage in 1999 and 2002).

“I knew I had to beat Baden because he was going to be at the front and I thought that if I beat him I’d probably win the stage but Nazon did a fantastic ride today to win his first stage,” said a dejected McEwen. “That’s life and life goes on with the green jersey or without it.

“The Champs Elysees has given me fantastic moments and now the low point... it will take a few days, probably months to think it over but I don’t know if I could have done anything more,” explained McEwen. “My crash in Lyon (Stage Six where he lost the green jersey lead) cost me a helluva lot of points but there’s plenty of ifs for everybody in the Tour so you can’t think ‘what if this, what if that’, you’ve got to go into the situation you’re in and make the best of it.

“It’s not tough luck that’s just the way sport is,” he continued. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t and today I got beaten - so good on Baden.

“I did my absolute best and so did my team but you don’t win every time and while I’m disappointed there are worse things in life.”

McEwen admits he fell into the trap in the first intermediate sprint and was boxed in but was determined not to make the same mistake again in the second sprint and on the finish line.

“I basically had to stick with Baden and not lose his wheel to anybody and when he started to sprint I came out of the wheel (of another rider), hesitated slightly because of the headwind, let him go a little bit and then tried to come out and around him but I couldn’t get over the top,” he explained. “One moment I thought I was past him but he fought back and I lost it in a photo.”

McEwen waited to see the replay and hear the confirmation from the judges who scrutinised the vision of the pair’s rough-house final encounter.

“We were both just giving everything and balance is the last thing you are thinking of,” said McEwen. “You are just trying to get to the line as fast as possible and in a couple of other sprints we’ve ended up leaning on each other either before or past the line because we’ve given everything and are totally empty.”

“The judges said afterwards they were going to look at it so I hung around to see what was decided but then they said they were going to leave everything as is and I can live with that.

“I saw on the line I’d been beaten.”

Meantime Adelaide’s Stuart O'Grady, 29, (Credit Agricole) quietly achieved a unique honour claiming the Centenary Prize as the consistently best placed rider on the six stages which had also been raced on the 1903 inaugural Tour de France. He finished today’s stage in sixth place to clinch the 50,000 Euro (approx AUD 80,000) prize money on offer.

Overall the record seven Australians who lined up for the Tour performed beyond expectations with all (leader’s, points, best young rider) bar the mountain climber’s jersey spending time on an Australian’s shoulders. But debut Tour rider, Michael Rogers, 23, of Canberra, played a major role in helping his team mate, Frenchman Richard Virenque, claim that honour for the Quick Step Davitamon team.

The battle for yellow and overall honours was decided yesterday with Lance Armstrong taking his fifth straight victory in a time of 83hr41min12sec but by his smallest ever winning margin. That margin was whittled down again today to 1min01sec when 1997 Tour winner Germany’s Jan Ullrich crossed the finishing line in the front group and Armstrong crossed 15 seconds later.

Aussies contesting the Tour de France – final results summary - Australians who lined up for the 2003 Tour de France were:

Lotto-Domo team
• Robbie McEwen, 31,(QLD) - 2nd overall points competition, wore green jersey in Stages 2 to 6.
• Nick GATES (NSW) 31, (debut rider abandoned the Tour on Stage 16)
• Baden Cooke, 24, (VIC) 1st overall points competition, 1st stage two.
• Brad McGee, 27, (NSW) 1st prologue, wore leader’s yellow jersey for stages 1 to 3.
• Matthew Wilson, 25, (VIC) (debut rider abandoned due to illness)

Quick-Step Davitamon
• Michael Rogers, 23, (ACT) Best placed Australian overall in 42nd position 1hr37min28sec behind Armstrong.

Credit Agricole
• Stuart O'Grady, 29, (SA) 1st Centenary Prize competition.

Report courtesy of Cycling Australia

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