Stuart O’Grady tonight spoke of the emotional rollercoaster which ended on a high with a Tour de Fra
Stuart O’Grady, whose only other Tour stage win came in Grenoble in 1998, dedicated his stage victory in Chartres to absent Cofidis team-mates David Millar and Matthew White. The Australian had earlier called the 10 days following the scandal team’s decision to opt out of racing in March “the hardest of [my] life.” “We’ve been through hell,” admitted the 30-year-old reigning Commonwealth Games road champion. “When the team stopped racing I was at home with an injured rib, so I would have missed Paris-Roubaix anyway. In that respect I was lucky. Sadly. though, my grandmother died at about that time and I touched rock bottom. Only my wife and daughter kept me going. I had no control of the situation: I didn’t know whether the team would keep going or not. Now, the isolated cases in the team have been dealt with. I hope that we’ve turned the page.” O’Grady’s voice was fraught with emotion as he spoke of a passion for his sport which never wavered in the face of adversity this spring. A woeful performance in the team time trial yesterday had seen Cofidis – by some distance the richest team in France – plummet to arguably their lowest ebb, 19th out 21 on the Tour’s team classification. With Millar out and the other David, Moncouti, resigned to chasing stage wins, potential sources of salvation seemed few and far between. Thanks to his victory tonight, O’Grady now lies second overall and his team has hauled back 12 places on the team classification. “I came close to winning after a long break in Lyon last year, but was caught 500 metres from the line. C’est la vie,” O’Grady shrugged tonight. “The wind and rain made it extremely tough today: in those conditions I felt sure that no team would hit the front and pull all day. I even predicted that I would win this morning, or at least try to. It was one of the most tactical finishes I’ve ever had to negotiate. I’ve shown some good form recently, and the when the attacks started I put that to my advantage. Everything was going through mind at that point. Finally Magnus [Backstedt] come from behind us at twice our speed and I jumped on his wheel. It was like jumping on train when he came past. “The pressure was really on the shoulders after the hit we’d taken,” O’Grady continued. “The team doesn’t really have a leader, and every day I’ve been lying awake at night wondering when things were going to change. You have to go looking for a change of luck. That’s what I did, and that’s what makes the win so emotional tonight. For everyone working at Cofidis, it eases the pressure”.