O’Grady ready for points battle

Stuart O'Grady's season has fluctuated between frustration and elation. What does the Tour have in s

Stuart O’Grady’s season has fluctuated between frustration and elation. What does the Tour have in s

Australian sprinter and brand new father Stuart O’Grady would be forgiven for relaxing his freckled frown from time to time, writes Justin Davis. But once the 30-year-old from Adelaide launches his bid for success on this year’s Tour – his first with his embattled Cofidis team – don’t think for a minute he’s become a softie. It’s been a hard season so far for O’Grady, but one which has led to him finding the form of his life, and with it some welcome and prestigious victories which have increased his chances of victory on the July 3-25 race no end. Having played second fiddle to two other Australians at the Tour these past two years when it comes to battling for the race’s green jersey – and one of his own former team-mates at Credit Agricole, Thor Hushovd – O’Grady has regained a confidence which puts him right back in the mix. “Confidence, that’s the main reason I’m hitting the kind of form I’ve got right now,” O’Grady told AFP as he explained the rich vein of form which saw him bag two stages at the Dauphine Libere last month. “The form’s been coming along nicely, and the confidence with it – which is something I haven’t had for quite a few years.” O’Grady’s move to Cofidis at the start of the new season went smoothly enough. Then came the doping affair which threatened to end France’s top-ranked team, and led to the suspension of all competition as police and magistrates went ballistic trying to nail everyone connected with the outfit. As a result, O’Grady’s plans for an assault on the tough World Cup classics series – “another sport altogether”, according to the Aussie – came to a halt. For someone who had just stepped up a grade by finishing third in the season-opening Milan-San Remo, following on from a podium finish at the Tour of Flanders last year, it was the worst possible decision that Cofidis president Francois Migraine could make. “That was one of the toughest periods I’ve had to go through in my life,” O’Grady explained. “I had a lot of thoughts about what was going on with the team at the time, but the hardest thing was not being in control of the situation. All I could do was go home and try to believe in the team.” The Cofidis affair had more than one consequence. Although it caused a huge scandal and led to the sacking of several team members and staff, it undoubtedly played a part in O’Grady finding the kind of form which he says has been improving since last year’s third-place finish at Flanders in 2003. “Yeah, that definitely had something to do with it,” he said referring to the one-month layoff from competition (April 9 – May 5). “It was really hard mentally. When we got back up and going (racing) with the other guys I kind of went back to basics. “But the form has just come along, and I’m really happy with it although I think I’ve been improving really since the Tour of Flanders last year. When you get past the 30 (age) mark, you tend to approach racing a bit differently. You stop wondering about finishing the race and start thinking about how well you can do in it.” Now, with a handful of prestigious wins this season under his belt, O’Grady wouldn’t say no to being allowed to go for green at the Tour – an ambition which hit the skids last year when he was competing alongside his own team-mate, Norwegian sprinter Hushovd, for the team’s support leading up to the sprints. “That was just a no-win situation for me,” he said referring to last year.” O’Grady added: “It wasn’t one of my objectives at the start of the season, but I’m not going to go to the Tour and say I’m not going for the green jersey. This year it’s different again. I’m going to the Tour to hopefully win some stages, and get in the breaks when they go. If there’s a chance of going for the jersey then I believe the team will help me with that. “Petacchi will be hard to beat, if he makes it to Paris, and so will the rest like Robbie (McEwen) and Baden (Cooke). But I’m going in with a pretty open mind.” No doubt, he said, that’s been just a bit softened by the birth of his son. “For sure, you hear people talking about it but until you’re a parent yourself you don’t realise. You kind of grow up, but at the same time my objectives are the same. In fact, I would say I’m even more hungry for success.”