Australia's Baden Cooke will saddle up for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday with a chance to showcase his own ambitions in the tough one-day classic. Cooke has resurrected his career with Saxo Bank over the past two seasons and, having spent years as a support rider, steps up as team leader for the 258km cobbled classic.
Saxo Bank, which is run and owned by former Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis, had one of the strongest classics teams up until the end of 2010. They underwent huge personnel changes in the off-season, with most of the team's big names – notably the Schleck brothers Andy and Frank, Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O'Grady - moving across to team Leopard.
While Cancellara will start as the favourite after his stunning win last year Saxo Bank won't heap pressure on Cooke, thanks mainly to Nick Nuyens' Tour of Flanders victory last week, which came on the heels of his win at Dwars door Vlaandern.
Saxo Bank-SunGard sports director Tristan Hoffman said: "Nick (Nuyens) pretty much saved our spring classic season with his wins in Dwars door Vlaandern and the Tour of Flanders so we enter Paris-Roubaix a little differently than usual. I put my biggest hopes into Baden (Cooke) who is feeling strong and he is really tough in these kind of races. He has been working so hard for his captains through the years and he deserves a chance to go on his own now.In our position we can afford to gamble a bit. We're not going to be at the front of the pack closing gaps when we don't have any top candidates for the win. We're just going to follow and we have several good cards to play with Gustav (Larsson), Kasper (Klostergaard) and Morkov (Michael)."
Fellow Australian Luke Roberts is also part of a squad which is complemented by Jonas Aaen, Jaroslaw Marycz and Matteo Tosatto. The biggest threat to two-time Roubaix champion Cancellara is likely to come from Belgium's three-time winner Tom Boonen of Quick Step. Norwegian Thor Hushovd, Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha, Alessandro Ballan and Filippo Pozzato will also likely be in the running for victory in the race, known as the Hell of the North.