By Les Clarke
Cofidis' Australian riders Stuart O'Grady and Matt White have decided to part company with their French squad and sign with Fassa Bortolo manager Giancarlo Ferretti's new Pro Tour team. O'Grady became disillusioned with Cofidis, having ridden for them since the beginning of 2004, winning Stage 5 of last year's Tour de France. "I wasn't happy with the way Cofidis handled things after the Tour" said O'Grady to Cyclingnews today. "They told four or five of our key support guys for the Tour that there wasn't a place for them next year, so I went on the hunt for a new team straight away."
Even though Cofidis had offered O'Grady another contract, he had already made up his mind to leave. "I'd been in touch with a couple of other teams - Phonak and T-Mobile - but a few weeks ago Giancarlo Ferretti rang and wanted to meet up. I found him very motivating. That'd be the best way to describe him," says O'Grady.
O'Grady appreciates the discipline and tight team structure apparent in Ferretti's squad, saying, "I think I need a team where the responsibility's shared across the entire team." And when asked whether the change in team nationality could pose a problem, O'Grady was philosophical, saying, "I've been with French teams all my career, and it'd be easy just to stay with a French team - but I want to win big bike races, and the direction of the team I'm in is critical."
Ferretti is renowned for being a hard taskmaster, but O'Grady isn't fazed, even when considering the experiences of other Anglo riders such as American Tom Danielson, who found his time in Ferretti's squad detrimental to his career in Europe. "When you've been through a Charlie Walsh programme as a teenager, I reckon most things are a walk in the park," said O'Grady.
In terms of his racing future, O'Grady believes a new team will be good for his chances in big races such as Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, and of course the Tour de France. "We touched on the programme for next year, but we'll discuss it more when Matt [White] and I head over there for a meeting in December. My first big goal is Milan-San Remo, then Flanders and Paris Roubaix, and the Tour."
Asked whether he'd be concentrating more on the classics than the Tour, O'Grady replied, "The Tour's always important, but I'm now 32, and I've signed for a couple of years - if it takes a year to get things sorted, that's ok; and you can't beat winning a stage of the Tour. But in a couple of years I may be looking more at the classics." And with riders such as Juan Antonio Flecha enjoying classics success at Fassa Bortolo, O'Grady is well-positioned to capitalise on Ferretti's experience in this area.
O'Grady is positive about the team's latest signing, Gilberto Simoni, who moved from Lampre-Caffita. "Having Simoni on the team will be good for the Tour - another GC rider will make things better in the longer races" said O'Grady. And with another eight riders from Fassa Bortolo confirmed for the new outfit in 2006, chances are stability won't be something O'Grady will have to worry about. There is some speculation that Sony Ericsson looks set to combine forces with Caffita in a deal that O'Grady confirms is "good for three years with the option of extending for another three." In addition to a stable sponsor is the fact that Matt White, O'Grady's countryman and sparring partner at Cofidis, has made the move with him. "Matty was pretty important to the deal, so that's another positive thing as well."
But in the immediate future O'Grady's going to enjoy time in Australia before preparing for his 2006 campaign. "I'll take another couple of weeks off before beginning training for next year. I know the team's keen to send over a team to ride the Tour Down Under, but at the moment it's not confirmed whether I'll ride there in January."