2007 Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O’Grady (CSC) spoke candidly about the highs and lows of his 2007 season at a Malliot Jaune (an organization formed by former champion cyclists) function last week.
Those attending the function were fortunate to spend a memorable afternoon with a true legend of Australian cycling. Most of the crowd were former racers and a lot of them champions in their own right such as Garry Newiand, Peter Bartels, John Bylsma, Keith Reynolds, John Tressider and John Trevorrow.
The audience was shown highlights of O’Grady’s Paris Roubaix win, including most of the last 2 Kilometers as he rode towards and into to the famous Roubaix velodrome in solitary splendor. The crowd acknowledged O’Grady’s achievement with a standing ovation.
It was a unique moment watching Australia’s greatest cycling win with the actual rider in the same room.
The more that O’Grady spoke about his Roubaix win the more the same message came out that he knew that it was ‘his day’. Besides a bike change with in the first 20ks of the race due to a loose crank, he rode the early part of the race perfectly to his teams (CSC) plan -that was to get into the early break and save his energy until he was joined by his team leader 2006 winner Fabian Cancellara. O’Grady happily followed the breakaway which included fellow Australian and team mate Luke Roberts, up until he punctured.
About his puncture, O’Grady said that after all of his years in the professional peleton he knew that he had to keep his cool, he said a younger Stuart O’Grady would have probably wasted all of his energy chasing back to the breakaway. Instead O’Grady pushed on by himself until he was caught by the race favourites including team leader Cancellara and 2005 winner Tom Boonen.
As the riders in this group, including Boonen, attacked ‘all out’ over the Roubaix cobles it further confirmed to O’Grady that it was ‘his day'; he watched riders blowing up around him and saw the pain in the faces of the ones who were still there and he new that he had the best form.
O’Grady had nothing but praise for team leader Cancellara after he gave him permission to race for himself if he was feeling good. O’Grady said that it would have been a hard decision for Cancellara to give up his position as the protected rider especially as he was the defending champion.
Again confirming to O’Grady that it was ‘his day’, the very second that Cancellara gave him the OK to ride for himself an attack went down the edge of the road which he reacted to straight away. It was this move that would take him back to the leaders.
Final confirmation for O’Grady that it was ‘his day’ came when the small group he was with approached the leaders. The next few moments played out for O’Grady in black and white. He could see everything with a clarity that only happens to a rider when it is ‘his day’. He could see the leaders ahead eating and drinking in anticipation of their catch. He could see the riders he was with going for their biddons knowing they would soon be getting a rest also. O’Grady knew that he was going better than the rest and he knew that this was his time to attack which is exactly what he did and as he said, ‘the rest is history’.
When asked what was going on in his mind over those final kilometers, O’Grady said that he was just hoping that he would not get another puncture whilst also pushing himself to extend his lead so that he would have time to change a wheel if he did puncture.
O’Grady also spoke about the lows of his 2007 season which of course was his terrible crash during the Tour De France. As he spoke about his recovery and future after the fall, O’Grady’s mental strength became apparent. When asked if there was ever a time when he thought he would not be able to race again, O’Grady simply said that he did not allow those sort of thoughts to enter his head. When asked if he was scared about descending after his crash, O'Grady again said that he would not harbour those thoughts.
As a long time O’Grady fan who has admired him equally for his actions off the bike as well as on the bike, it was great to see that the perceptions I had created of O’Grady (mainly from SBS Tour highlights) were all correct. Beside being one of the worlds best bike riders, to me O’Grady had always appeared to be humble, down to earth, positive, Aussie, and very strong both physically and mentally. He was all of this and much more. At the Malliot Jaune function he was also entertaining, funny and appreciative. A true champion.