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Down time proves to be a rare and elusive treasure

Editor's Note: Aside from having a name that conjures up visionsof a nice refreshing pint, Rupert Guinness is a sports writer for the dailynewspaper The Australian. A former European correspondent for Winningand VeloNews, Guinness will be sending in a daily column from theTour.Australian hope Baden Cooke discovered before today's first stage ofthe Tour de France even started just how big the step up is for a newcomerto the world's biggest bike race. That it took the 23 year-old from Benalla - home of the famed Australianbushranger Ned Kelly - 30 minutes to simply get from his FDJeux.com

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By Rupert Guinness, Of The Australian

Editor’s Note: Aside from having a name that conjures up visionsof a nice refreshing pint, Rupert Guinness is a sports writer for the dailynewspaper The Australian. A former European correspondent for Winningand VeloNews, Guinness will be sending in a daily column from theTour.Australian hope Baden Cooke discovered before today’s first stage ofthe Tour de France even started just how big the step up is for a newcomerto the world’s biggest bike race.

That it took the 23 year-old from Benalla – home of the famed Australianbushranger Ned Kelly – 30 minutes to simply get from his FDJeux.com teamvan to the Village depart told him enough of the challenge facing him.

That when Cooke did reach the village and finally get to sit down, itwas time for him to get back on his bike and head to the start-line forthe 192.5km stage out and back from Luxembourg told a little bit more.

Judging time and how it is best used in the Tour is an art that comeswith experience, especially when you are one of the 189riders, who are constantly asked for a little time here, alittle time there, as Cooke found out after arriving at his first Touras a target of interest.

“From when I left the camping car I have been stopped by peoplewanting to talk to me. It’s amazing. I have never seen anything likeit,” said Cooke, a little bewildered.

But for the fans and the press, Cooke is a man worth meeting. So farthis year, he has scored wins in Travers a Flanders, a stage of Circuitdes Mines and Midi Libre and the Tro Bro Leon race. He also placedsecond in the Dauphiné Libéré prologue, a result he proved was no flukeby finishing a creditable 28th at 20 seconds to Lance Armstrong in theTour prologue on Saturday.

Cooke’s bid for a little privacy with his teammates made interestingwatching. As Cooke left the FDJeux.com van for the 200m trip, he wasconstantly stopped for autographs by well-wishing fans. He stoppedagain. Then again. And again.

Then as he reached the entrance to the village depart acrew of children working as junior reporters for a sanctioned school projectdoor-stopped the up-and-coming Aussie.

Again he obliged. Again he answered questions. Then more questions. And more. Even when the young girl reporter pulled out another A3 piece of paper with at least another 20 questions to ask, he obliged. All the time, he was on his feet.

Not that Cooke escaped after that. A French radio journalist hookedhim.

Then an invite – or accredited guest. And finally a Germantelevision reporter.

With minutes to spare, Cooke had not even stepped through thevillage door, let alone sat down for a little rest and quiet chatwith teammates.

Not that he was going to have the chance. By the time he reachedthe FDJeux.com tent, Brad McGee, Jacky Durand, Christophe Mengin,Jimmy Casper et al had gone. Even his waiting parents said they hadto go.

Alone, it seemed only natural that that he agree to one more request:a question from this reporter on his chances of winning and possiblytaking the yellow jersey in today’s stage. Too bad they proved to beas slim as Cooke’s hope of getting a little down time of his own.