O'Grady used Tour Down Under and Tour of Qatar to build his fitness for the upcoming Classics.
(Photo: Yuzuru Sunada)
Australian one-day classics star, Stuart O'Grady is nearing the end of his career. This year or next may be his last, but he still has some big wins in his legs. If not, he is going to help his Leopard-Trek team-mates do it.
"I think all the stars have to be lined up in your favor," said O'Grady, 37 years old.
The rider from Adelaide in South Australia became professional 16 years ago with team GAN. He's won three stages and wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, plus gold medals at the Olympics and world championships. His last big win was the 2007 Paris-Roubaix.
In 2007, O'Grady's job was to look after Saxo Bank team-mate and defending champion Fabian Cancellara. However, Switzerland's Cancellara was not at his best that day to Roubaix. O'Grady excelled in the hot, dusty conditions and rode clear for the win.
Even if he is eight years older than Cancellara, O'Grady may still have his chance. O'Grady, however, is planning to play a helper role in the Spring Classics, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
"If Fabian has form like he's had the last few years, my job changes and it is just about looking after him," added O'Grady. "I'll get guys organized, drop him [Cancellara] off at the right moment and let him finish off the job."
O'Grady joined Luxembourg-based team Leopard-Trek this off-season after five years with Bjarne Riis' CSC/Saxo Bank team. At the time, he was leaving Cancellara behind, but then Cancellara broke his contract with Riis to join his best mate at Leopard.
"I was actually prepared to take on the responsibility and be the man for the classics, but then Fabian's come on board. I am wrapped," said O'Grady.
"When you have someone like Fabian, it's probably easier to win a classic if he's your team-mate. If I go head-to-head with him, he's going to annihilate me, any chance I have of winning Paris-Roubaix. However, if he gets marked out of the race, everyone is focused on him and I manage to get up the road..."
Part of O'Grady's job at Saxo Bank was to look after the younger riders, like Andy Schleck. He helped Schleck finish second at the Tour de France twice in the last two years.
Andy Schleck and his older brother, Fr‰nk, also joined Leopard-Trek. O'Grady will continue his mentor role with Schleck and with some of the team's other youngsters, like fellow Australian, William Clarke.
"I've done the chasing yellow, winning classics... now, things have evolved, I am a little older and you're on a team for different reasons: give your experiences to help the younger guys, captain on the road, whatever it is. It's a different challenge. You see those guys ride up the climbs and stand on the podium; it's a different type of satisfaction because it's something I can't do physically."
O'Grady signed a one-year contract with Leopard-Trek. There are rumours that he may join new Australian team, Green Edge next year. He said anything is possible, though, including retiring and remaining with Leopard.
"I am really motivated this year, it's a new team and I have some big challenges. I really love the big races, they get the heart pumping."
O'Grady's career started with French team GAN in 1995. He stayed there for nine years as it changed sponsors to become the green team, CrÈdit Agricole. He spent two years with France's Cofidis, 2004 and 2005, and then joined Riis' CSC team in 2006.
"The young riders are looked after by very professional teams by all over the globe now," continued O'Grady.
"You know, 13 years ago when I first won the Tour Down Under, everyone was coming for a holiday. I had a couple of months training under my belt, cruising around in the hills and I kicked their asses easily. Teams now are so much more professional, so much more dedicated to looking after their riders."