Sep 22nd, 09. Back in 2000 Yaroslav Popovych won the Tour of New Caledonia. In 2009 it was kiwi Joseph Cooper's turn. That's a big name to follow!
The Tour of New Caledonia is a ten stage tour held from the 10th to the 19th of September. Cooper was part of a BikeNZ team, one of three New Zealand teams competing.
Cooper preparing for hot summer racing - in winter
"It's been a wicked couple of days," Cooper told RoadCycling.co.nz once he left sunny New Caledonia behind and was back enjoying Wellington temperatures. "Soaking up the final podium was the best feeling ever."
Joseph Cooper (Joe to most) lives in Wellington. He rides professionally with the Subway Avanti team, but socially with a group called Meo GP.
Brent Backhouse from Meo GP interviewed Cooper for RoadCycling.co.nz
Congratulations on winning the Tour. What was your lead up for this tour like?
Well, I did a few local handicap club races to test out the legs and they were still there.
Apart from that, a lot of training inside on the rollers beside the fire watching the X-Files to adjust and get the body used to riding in warmer conditions.
And when training outside I rugged up really well, like an eskimo...
What's it feel like wearing the yellow jersey on the tour ?
You feel like a new person everyday you wake up and pull on the jersey. The same feeling as having a lot of coffee!
It also gives the team around me a lot of motivation to turn themselves inside out and control the peloton. They gave me an armchair ride for a lot of the tour and I only had to finish it off.
A bit like the team made up the ingredients of the cake and I made the icing on top.
And there was the added bonus of taking the KOM title too...
Can you give us an insight into your life while on Tour?
We ate like kings! The organisers put us up in a 4 star resort for the beginning and end of the tour which was super flash.
On the road (once we had the yellow jersey) the tour organisation gave the team special treatment, with the best food available on the island and sleeping in resort style accommodation. The other teams slummed it in rundown boarding schools! This was plenty of incentive in itself to keep the jersey in the team!
Who were your teammates on the Tour?
Firstly, we had a great backup team behind the scenes. Big thanks to John, our local New Caledonian who drove, bought food and supplies, washed us down, massaged, carried bags (the perfect soigneur) and could speak pretty good English.
Greg Hume, who was our team Manager and mechanic - his main role was to keep everyone in the team under control as tempers occasionally flared from the stress of defending the yellow jersey.
Eric Drower, my right hand man - he spent a lot of time on the front driving the bunch forward and looking after me (thanks for the wheel change Eric).
Matt Gorter, he set tempo on the climbs for a lot of the tour, and did a lot of water bottle duty. Tom Findlay, managed to pull out a few fine rides, was a mixed bag of lollies at times.
Sam Weston, crashed on the second stage and rode the rest of the tour with a cracked chainstay on his bike, held together with electrical tape.
What was the hardest part of the tour?
Cooper gets a puncture at the worst time
I punctured at the bottom of the only Hors Categorie climb of the tour and the stage finish was at the summit.
A quick wheel change by Eric helped, but I had to chase for 5km to get back on.
Once I caught up, the peloton were going full gas on the climb, so I had to dig really deep to catch them.
Once I caught up to the bunch, out of sheer frustration I went straight off the front with one other rider and took second on the stage.
That was the hardest part.
Cooper chasing back on
Caught up for 2nd
...and the best part of the tour?
The best part was taking out the King of the Mountain title on the second to last day. I took off from the gun and rode 17km solo to the top of a Cat 2 climb taking enough points for the jersey - this was candle on top of the cake with yellow icing. Podium girls weren't bad either!
Is it true that with the jersey on even you can score hot chicks every night ?
As you can tell I have two lovely ladies on each arm. And as they say... what goes on tour, stays on tour!
Looking at recent photos of you in action I can't help wondering what's with the long socks, are you trying to make some sort of anti-style statement or is it just poor taste ?
Well, I don't think my socks are that bad, just check out my team mate Eric (right), that's some serious sock height!
As far style goes, check out the green shades, they speak for themselves...
Who has helped you in the lead up to this tour?
The Subway Avanti team have been a great support. Mum and Dad for putting up with a son whose job is to ride a bike.
Paul Davies and the team at Capital Cycles for expert advice and care of my bike. Bruce Christie who owns Subway Upper Hutt, Silverstream and Rimutaka (he also hooks me up with my favourite Cafe L'affare brew). The Meo GP bunch ride for keeping me on my toes.
What's coming up on the racing program for JC? Can you share any upcoming goals you have?
Maybe Taupo-Napier this weekend to test the legs and see if they've recovered.
Then a three week break until Club Nationals and then the season really begins with the Tour of Southland and then my Subway Avanti team has been invited to ride the Tour of Hainan in China. Can't forget the 2up TT local club champs in Whitemans Valley either...
Being on the road may be fun but what's the thing you most look forward to doing when you get back home ?
Good coffee and relaxing at the cafe after a hard days training...
Follow Joseph Cooper on his blog www.joecooper.me
All tour photos (c) Jenny Bousquet