Target: Tour team in July
Big pothole, snapped fork, five busted ribs and a broken collarbone; Stuart O'Grady's accident earlier this year looked set to rule him out for quite a while but, as the Australian tells Shane Stokes, he's raring to go once again.
Stuart O'Grady has shown a remarkably quick return from injury this spring. On March 9 he crashed on stage two of Tirreno-Adriatico, breaking five ribs and his collarbone. Five and a half weeks later, he made his return to competition in the Rund um Köln and now, just over two months after hitting the deck, he is riding the ProTour Tour of Catalonia. The Australian has had a solid showing thus far, placing 16th in the opening time trial, then sprinting in eighth on stage two and fourteenth on stage three.
With his CSC team-mate Ivan Basso handing out a butt-kicking thus far over in Italy, O'Grady is building form in the hope of being on the winning team in the Tour de France. He told Cyclingnewsearlier this year that he was on the shortlist for the team and was so committed to the cause of helping Basso that he would give up any ambitions he still had about winning the Maillot Vert in France. And while he's had a spring spoiled by injury, he is nevertheless hoping to make it into CSC's all-important selection for July.
"I am hungrier than ever and more motivated than ever." - Stuart O'Grady has the fire.
"Nothing is 100 percent, I would need to do a good ride to be absolutely certain of it, but I am in the squad as it stands and I will obviously try to ensure that my form is good enough," he told Cyclingnews this week. "Ivan has shown that he is in fantastic form and I think he is not only capable of winning the Giro, but that he is capable of winning the Tour as well. Bjarne is obviously going to want to take a team with that goal in mind and so I am going to make sure that I am worthy of selection."
O'Grady is encouraged by the speed that he has returned to racing, something even he didn't expect. "It is incredible how fast the body can recover," he said. "To be back racing five weeks after breaking the bones that I did is pretty remarkable, I think. I was definitely happy to be able to finish 200 kilometre races, to come straight back into it. I am pretty surprised, to be honest; I thought I would struggle a lot more than I did. But I think the amount of base training I did in December, January and February has paid off.
"I started off with the Tour of Cologne. I was pretty surprised to finish that, it was 200 kilometres in the rain. I then went up to Denmark and did two one-day races up there, including the Danish version of Paris-Roubaix. One of my team-mates won that, so it was good. I spoke to Bjarne at that point and we discussed the idea of riding Dunkirk in order to do a bit more racing. As I missed the Classics I am a bit further behind than I would like to be. It turned out to be a pretty good idea, I think.
"I got through the Four Days of Dunkirk pretty well. I didn't start the last day because there was pretty crappy weather and I didn't feel 100 percent. I though it was just better to pull out after what had been a hard week, coming back into racing, and just get ready for the Tour of Catalunya. I have done some pretty good training and I felt fresh coming into this. This is the last big push before I try to get a ride in the Dauphine, which is a pretty important race to prepare for the Tour."
It would have been understandable for O'Grady to have been despondent after his accident in Tirreno-Adriatico. After all, he'd missed the world championships last year due to injury, then suffered the stress of discovering that the team he was to race for in 2006 was not to be. Left without a contact, he got the boost of signing with CSC - a setup he describes as the best in the world - but then faced further disappointment when he had that bad fall in Italy in March and was forced to miss Milan San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, two of his big targets for 2006.
However, apart from the knowledge that bad luck tends to happen in threes, he had the benefit of experience. Two years ago he broke a rib before the Classics, suffering in the Tour of Flanders as a result, then missed some important races such as Paris-Roubaix when the Cofidis team were suspended from competition due to the doping scandal affecting some riders in the team. O'Grady kept working hard and bounced back to have the best year of his career, netting results such as two stage wins in the Dauphiné Libéré, one stage apiece in the Tour de France and Tour of Denmark, victory in the Hew - Cyclassics World Cup race, fourth in the world road race championships, sixth in the world cup and eighth in the world rankings. He's clearly hoping to hit a similar vein of form now.
"I am coming back quickly. Sometime if you do a hard Classics campaign you can find it a little difficult to build up motivation but I am on the opposite end of that scale. I am hungrier than ever and more motivated than ever, so now I am trying to build some good form.
"Looking back, I missed the Classics in 2004 and came back really hungry then. The Classics are really demanding, they do take a lot out of you, not only physically but mentally. Especially when you do Flanders, Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem, they are really tough, hard-core races. When I came back in 2004 I had the best year of my life. Everything happens for a reason, and I am hoping it will be the same case in 2006."
O'Grady has a plan. "My goals here [in Catalunya] are to get a good stage race into my legs. We will be doing a lot of climbing here, it is a really hard tour but my main objective is to get to the end of it. I will try to have a go one of the days, get into a breakaway. I will pick a roadman's stage and give it 100 percent. If it comes down to a sprint I am not really sure if I will be right up there with my current form, but we will see as the week goes on.
"After that, I hope to do the Dauphiné and go well there, then ride the team time trial up in Holland, [ProTour TTT in Endhoven]. That will be the final race before the Tour. By that stage, I hope to have my place on the Tour team."
If so, O'Grady will have the possibility of being part of history this July. Ivan Basso is looking like he will be one of the big favourites and if he does pull it off, the Australian's place on the Tour-winning team would be a very special moment indeed. He certainly believes in the Italian's chances. "Ivan is not one to make claims and talk things up," he said. "But when he turns around and gets the results as well, people don't just respect him, they also believe in him and will do whatever it takes for him to be successful. It is a win-win situation, I guess."