News feature, October 18, 2005
But will La Grande Boucle continue to elude him?
After bringing three other Australians to the team he started out his professional career with six years ago, only to see each of them leave at the end of this season, it appears likely that Bradley McGee will find himself the lone Australian rider in the Française des Jeux line-up for 2006.
"That's just astounding if that's how it ends up - it's gone from having four Aussies to one," said his bemused manager Kerry Ruffels to Cyclingnews. "Brad has opened up the door for so many other Aussies on so many other teams because of the success of the Aussies. Now, they're considered to be worthwhile to have a look at."
For those having trouble keeping up with the transfer season, Française des Jeux sprinter Baden Cooke and all-rounder Matt Wilson have signed for Continental Pro Team Unibet.com (formerly MrBookmaker.com), and ex-track star Mark Renshaw is staying in France, but moving to rival team Crédit Agricole.
Asked if the Aussie exodus invoked thoughts of McGee changing teams himself, Ruffels said McGee still had another year left on his contract, and contrary to a few rumours being circulated, he has no intention of leaving. "I mean, they're always open [to offers]," Ruffels said. "Almost every year, people express an interest in [McGee], but I expect him to have another 12 months minimum with FdJeux. That's what we're expecting, anyway."
Today, McGee was on his way back to his home in Sydney where, like the majority of Australian and American riders, he does his best to avoid the European winter. But regardless of what extremes winter brings to Europe, it's already been a harsh summer for the 29 year-old, though more due to learning experiences than the climate per se.
After finishing the 2004 Giro d'Italia eighth overall, McGee openly declared himself a Grand Tour rider, setting his sights on a high overall finish at the following year's Tour de France. It was a big call, an even greater challenge - but one the Sydneysider felt he needed.
"It's like a new lease of life targeting general classification," McGee said at this year's Tour de Romandie, an important early-season test of form held at the end of April. "It's made me sharpen my act up another level and I'm really enjoying it. It's the only way I want to do it... the motivation is there, the hunger is incredibly high to make good all the work I've done."
The confidence may have been there, but at that point, his form was amiss. Despite a change of program and diet to mould him into the perfect Grand Tour specimen, he struggled to keep up with the best. It wasn't until the last day, an individual time trial in Lausanne and his favoured discipline, that McGee's best finally came through, finishing second to overall winner Santiago Botero of Colombia.
However, by the time the Tour de Suisse came around, less than three weeks from the start of La Grande Boucle, he was flying. Finishing second to Jan Ullrich in the time trial before winning the following day's mountain stage, McGee was two seconds from the overall lead until exhaustion caught up with him in the end, where he eventually finished eighth on GC, the race won by Basque Aitor Gonzalez.
Despite some mixed signs in Switzerland, he still had every reason to believe in himself at the Tour de France. But in the opening time trial, on a parcours thought to be tailor-made for Bradley McGee, saw him only 18th best. From there on in, things only got worse: third-last team in the Stage 4 team time trial, then two days later, McGee crashed while attempting to lead out team-mate Baden Cooke, which saw him ride the rest of the race nowhere near his best - "60 to 70 percent", he told his manager Ruffels. The disappointment was almost salvaged on the final day with a daring, desperate dash on the Champs-Élysées, but that too came to nought as wily Kazakhi Alexandre Vinokourov swept past him right at the end.
Back in Spain for the final three-week Tour of the year, McGee rode brilliantly to finish third in opening time trial of the Vuelta a España, capturing the race lead a day later, courtesy of some demon-esque descending. Four stages later, however, his troubles re-emerged; by the race's halfway mark, his tour was over.
"I have definitely got the capabilities for GC, it is there, but I think it is too much of a risk to focus it all on one three-week race," McGee said at the Vuelta.
"Let's face it, I thought that top 10 or top 20 was good in the Tour, but I can't tell you who was 10th in the Tour this year. We have taken that away and realised that I should focus on races such as Paris-Nice, the Tour de Suisse, and races like that. When I hit three-week Tours, target stages, time trials and prologues."
So that's it? No more thoughts of stepping onto the final podium in the world's biggest bike race?
His manager isn't convinced. "He's made that sort of suggestion, but I'm not sure if he's made that sort of move for the right reasons or not," questioned Ruffels. "What most people have forgotten was that he was injured after stage six [at the Tour de France] - and I think Brad's forgotten that himself. You can't finish eighth in the Giro and say you're going to give up on Tour riding."
"But you can't have a guy riding for GC leading out their sprinters in Tour stages. Brad is an unbelievable bike rider, but he's not superman. Look at Cadel Evans - Cadel sat nicely for the majority of the Tour without having to hit the front, and he showed you what you could do if you do that - without even a full team [riding for him]."
Bradley McGee will be a guest at the 2005 Bicycling Australia Show, held at The Dome in Sydney's Olympic Park from October 20-23, 2005.