Aussies just miss out on medals

The Australian team are philosophical after just missing out on the medals today, with Stuart O'Grad

ZABEL Erik ( GER ) / FREIRE Oscar ( ESP ) / O'GRADY Stuart ( AUS ) / BETTINI Paolo ( ITA ) / REBELLIN Davide ( ITA ) / ASTARLOA Igor ( ESP ) / WHITE Matthew ( AUS )
The Australian team are philosophical after just missing out on the medals today, with Stuart O’Grad

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE A dust-speckled, exhausted Stuart O’Grady reflected in Verona tonight that fourth place behind Oscar Freire was scant consolation for easily the Australian’s best world championship finish to date. Speaking to procycling within minutes of narrowly missing out on a first world championship medal, O’Grady admitted that he had briefly spied victory when a Herculean last-ditch effort hauled him alongside Alejandro Valverde, Oscar Freire, Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego and Michael Boogerd on the last ascent of the Torricelle climb. At that stage, eight kilometres separated O’Grady from a five-man sprint finish in which he would have started as the overwhelming favourite for world championship gold. Ultimately, the Aussie would live to regret the move. Soon a further nine riders had used O’Grady’s wheel as a magic carpet back to sail back towards the leaders. The Cofidis rider then would pay for his exertions in the sprint on the Corsa Porta Nuova. “Jumping across to the lead group on the climb took a lot out of me. It was energy which I then didn’t have for the sprint,” O’Grady confirmed. “With Freire up there it was obviously a dangerous group, and I didn’t want to finish thinking about what might have been. “I felt really average for the first 100km, so I was doubly surprised to be in that position” O’Grady admitted. “I always thought that it was going to be a fast race from the start. My legs were really heavy. It was the Spanish team that brought Freire through in the end: there were six of them on the front entering the final lap. As soon as I saw that, I realised how hard it would be to beat him. That’s if I didn’t already know when he pulled out of the Vuelta to prepare for this race.” Having already claimed a Tour de France stage victory in Chartres in July and a first world cup win in Hamburg in August, O’Grady today added further gloss to his most successful season today. It is also one which augurs well for his Classics campaign with Cofidis next season. “I wouldn’t have put any money on myself at the start of today’s race: this was one of the hardest Worlds courses that I have ever ridden or ever seen,” the 31-year-old ‘finisseur’ admitted. “It has been a long season and I have been just about holding my form together over the last few weeks. My body feels like it is shutting down now. Having said that, it has been an awesome year. A rainbow jersey would have been the cherry on the cake.” O’Grady, fearing he may have spent his sprint power on the final climb, tried to communicate with young team-mate Allan Davis as they approached the finish to see if he could instead lead out his team mate. “I’d obviously given it a nudge to get across so I asked ‘Alby’ (Davis) if he wanted to sprint,” explained O’Grady. “But it was hard to communicate and I suppose we both stuffed it up a little bit. “Mind you it was more of a slugfest at the end than a traditional sprint,” said O’Grady who described the race as the hardest World Championship he has contested. The team rode an absolutely fantastic race and did a great job,” said O’Grady. “The boys put in 100 percent from the young guys through to the ones with more experience – they were looking after us.” Meantime Davis’ sprint momentum was halted when Freire’s lead out man, Alejandro Valverde drifted right as Paolini moved left closing out the gap Davis had surged into in his bid for a medal and resulting and bit of pushing between Davis and the Italian. “I think it closed out intentionally but that’s racing,” said a philosophical Davis. “More than anything I just want to say thanks to the whole team for supporting me and it’s just a pity I couldn’t get a result for the boys.” “Allan’s sprint was hit hard when both Valverde and Paolini moved in but it was no ones’s fault really which is what the officials decided as well after they looked at the replays,” explained Cycling Australia’s Elite Men’s Road Coach and former professional, Neil Stephens. “There was a gap and he went for it and it closed.” “I felt pretty good throughout the race,” said Davis who comes from Bundaberg in north Queensland. “Even though the last two laps were very tough I was ‘comfy’ (comfortable) enough to hold onto the breaks that were going. On the last lap Spain had more riders up front than any other nation so they had control,” he said. “Their team and Freire put in an awesome performance so they deserved the win.” Stephens also acknowledged the Spanish dominance but was more than satisfied with the way the Australians performed. “The blokes all rode well above themselves in what we knew would be a hard race,” he said. “Everyone did their job and a bit more which is what led to us having two guys with the leaders at the finish. Fourth and fifth isn’t perfect but then things don’t always go to plan,” said Stephens. “Hey! Two ‘Aussies’ up there is great.” Meantime, Freire was awarded the gold medal and his weight (64 kilograms) in Grana Padano, the local parmesan cheese and event sponsor. He said the cheese will be given to his fan club in Cantabria in the north of Spain.