An interview with Brad McGee, August 30, 2005
After a hard-fought second place on stage 2 of this year's Vuelta a Espana, Australian rider Brad McGee became the only Australian rider to wear the leader's jersey in all three Grand Tours. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes spoke with a dazed but happy McGee after capturing the leader's gold jersey.
Bradley McGee made history after Sunday's stage of the Vuelta a Espana when he became the first Australian rider to hold the leader's jersey in each of the Grand Tours. McGee took Tour de France yellow when he won the prologue in 2003, the Giro d'Italia pink when he did likewise last season and took the missing part of that series on Sunday when he wrested the Maillot Oro off the shoulders of Saturday's winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank) with a strong ride on the second stage.
The 29 year old FDJeux rider was part of a select group which forged ahead of the peloton on the second category climb of the Alto de San Jerónimo. He made his move on the descent down to the finish in Cordoba, overhauling stage leader Leonardo Bertagnolli (Cofidis) with six kilometres to go, driving it hard towards the finish, but losing out on any chance of winning their sprint when he cramped close to the line. The two were caught right at the finish by a five-man chasing group, but Bertagnolli and McGee had just enough in hand to hold on for first and second on the stage. Somewhat dramatically, the latter collapsed 100 metres after the finish, his leg muscles in complete spasm. A soigneur had to work on them for several minutes before McGee could get to his feet, climb back on his bike and make his way towards the podium.
"My legs totally locked up with cramp with about two kilometres to go. I just couldn't pedal; I was faking it the whole way," he told Cyclingnews, while still lying on the tarmac. "I'm not surprised that happened...it was 44 degrees today. Even my handlebars were scorching. It may have been a little hotter at the Tour Down Under before, but it was still very, very hard out there."
Had McGee not cramped, he may have been able to win the stage. But his first priority was to get the leader's jersey after missing out by a very close margin on Saturday. Satisfied in doing that, he said yesterday evening that he hadn't too disappointed about the prologue result. "I was spewing up for half an hour after the race so I know that I couldn't have gone any harder. Okay, I didn't win, but I didn't mess up either. I gave it all I had."
McGee started yesterday's stage third overall, three seconds behind Menchov and two seconds off the time of Rik Verbrugghe (QuickStep). The latter became virtual leader when he finished second at the first bonus sprint, yet McGee said he wasn't too worried at that point. "There was a big change at the finish, because it was such a hard run-in. At the end of the day, you had to be in the first three or in the first group at the finish. That was the most important thing. I didn't want to use too much energy with the first sprint but the second sprint really hurt me, going up against Boonen."
The climb is where the decisive selection was made. "I can't really remember how it went," he continued, colour beginning to return to his face as he recovered from the heat, the cramp and his efforts. "All I know is that it split a bit, the bunch sat up and I was the last rider to go. I jumped across and kept going by guys. I was jumping off everyone."
"The last two kilometres or kilometre and a half of the climb really hurt. I didn't know the profile; I think everyone else knew it, but I am glad I didn't, because I wouldn't have gone when I did! Once over the top, I just really hit the descent. An Illes Balears guy [Pablo Lastras] crashed right in front of me on one of the bends. He was pushing it real hard and he went down. It was real dangerous...again, I am glad I didn't know it because I wouldn't have gone as hard as I did."
In the end, McGee didn't need to take quite as many risks. He finished the day a comfortable 22 seconds up on Bertagnolli in the overall standings, capturing the maillot oro for the first time in his career. Mission accomplished. "I have my collection now, all three jerseys," he said happily. "That's what I came here for."
How long he will keep it remains to be seen. McGee finished eighth in the 2004 Giro d'Italia but despite this, he told Cyclingnews on Friday that he no longer entertains ambitions of winning a Grand Tour. But even if he doesn't consider himself a contender, he could hold onto the maillot oro for a few days at least. It's the perfect tonic after a disappointing, injury-afflicted Tour de France, and a real motivation-builder prior to the time trial at the world championships in Madrid next month.