You know that moment of clarity when you know exactly what to do to achieve success? That moment where the angels sing?
Matt Cooke of Team Exergy had such a moment yesterday on the Queen Stage at the Tour de Beauce when he climbed his way to victory after attacking the favorites.
“It was one of those things were you turn off your brain and just try.” Cooke told podiuminsight.
The inevitable early break was caught at the bottom of the third and final climb, the tough slog up to the finish at the top of Mt Megantic after 164-km of racing.
“The first kilometer is like 18%, and boy I felt fantastic on that first part, I was like I just feel awesome’. He said with a laugh. “I was thinking ‘I want to attack right now but it’s too early, it’s too early’ which it was and then there was a sort of a moment in the middle of the climb where the top six guys who were there sort of , I don’t know, backed of. I attacked full gas and that was it.”
Mid-way through the 5-km climb, the lead group had dwindled down to eight riders when Cooke attacked. He quickly got a gap of 10 seconds on the chasers which included yellow jersey Francisco Mancebo (Competitive Cyclist), Rory Sutherland and Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare), Amgen Tour of California KOM winner Sebastian Salas (Optum-KBS), Christian Meier (Canadian National Team) and Hugo Houle (Spidertech).
Cooke held on to take the biggest win of his career with a seven-second gap. He also picked up the KOM jersey. “It feels awesome. I’m very proud, I’m just happy. Maybe not proud but just happy.”
It’s finally coming together this season for the 32-year old rider, who also claimed a win at the Sea Otter Classic back in April. But this victory, against a deeper field at the very tough UCI stage race in Canada is big.
“This is how I ride in training for the past six years. This is how I always ride but not when it counts. This year I’m just starting, for whatever reason it is, I’m starting to put it together this year. “
Cooke has stated that this season is the best one that he’s ever had. The reason? Confidence. A word that was repeated multiple times during our conversation. “I just know how to ride better than a few years ago. I’m just racing like I should race.”
So what brought the changes this year? “I just said screw it, I’m sick of getting eighth place. I said I’m going to will myself to be in the right spot and go with the right moves. I said ‘GD I’m going to be in the right flippin’ spot and I fail then I fail but I’m not going to’.” he replied. “I train great, the numbers have been there for years. Literally I’ve had these fantastic numbers but I couldn’t even do anything with them but I would always start the climb 40 riders back which it doesn’t mean anything when you can finish 10th place, that doesn’t do anything for you.”
“I have a lot more confidence. I feel that I can ride in the right place, I can do what I want to do in a race without fear of blowing up. I’ve seen myself ride with moments, with excellent moves but not perfect all the way through but now it’s just going better.”
He has not really changed his training and follows the advice of his coach, Scott Moninger. “Scott is a really, really intelligent guy. I believe in him a lot, he’s achieved everything in the sport in North America, and I do exactly what he tells me just because I know it was going to work. We have a good relationship. It’s nice when you finally find a coach who you trust.”
Throughout it out, he’s had the support of his squad which he joined in 2011. “They’ve had a lot of confidence in me. I had some moments last year that were good and they’re getting a lot better this year, they’re really great to me. The management treats everyone on this team with respect, everyone. And it’s infectious. Everyone is made to feel like they count on this team.” said Cooke who added that he’s been on other good teams in the past.
“I appreciate the way the management have put their confidence in us and said we believe in you. Maybe they don’t believe in us but they say that and that’s what comes through, maybe they’re lying to us to try to get results but it works.” he laughed.
The win feels even sweeter after the team has been through bad luck this season, from injuries to mechanicals.
“We’ve had more bad luck this year than last year.” he agreed. “You don’t give up, you wouldn’t do this sport if you were a quitter, and none of us are quitters. The people that you see on our roster this year, and most of the people in this sport I think are not quitters. I think we’re all a pretty hard-headed bunch and we’re dreamers. We continue to dream of the big win, all of us.”
Speaking of the big dream, Cooke now sits second on GC at the Tour de Beauce at only three seconds from Mancebo. Three more stages to go including the decisive 20-km time trial on an out-and-back course with a slight uphill to the turnaround point.
“I am going to try everything.” he said of his plan for the Friday stage. “I’m not sure what that means we’ll see, my time trial is good but not great and there are some strong time trial riders here but what can you do except your best?”
The future feels bright for Cooke who see many years of racing ahead.
“I can feel it, that I’m going to get better and better, knock on wood.” he said. “If I don’t like it, I’ll quit. Right now I like it even though there’s definitely moments where it’s really uncomfortable.”
Cooke is also hoping to do well at the Tour of Utah or the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado, assuming the team is invited.
“To be honest I still don’t know if I can do it at a Tour of California or USA Pro Cycling Challenge race but I’m gambling for the big one but I’ll keep on trying.”
At the end of our conversation, which was interrupted multiple times with Tour de Beauce racers congratulating him, Cooke added that he was extremely happy to see his teammate Carlos Alzate win at Nature Valley Grand Prix.