Stuart O’Grady may have time left on his contract with Leopard Trek but there was no hiding his excitement at joining Australian team GreenEdge for 2012 when he led a homegrown squad at yesterday’s London Olympics test event.
O’Grady finished a creditable fourth behind Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) after a number of his Australian teammates were caught behind a crash in the final few kilometers.
O’Grady signed for Leopard Trek on a one-year deal in 2010 but the lure of riding for a team comprising mainly Australian riders was too good an opportunity to miss.
"I’m really excited about the new project. It’s going to be a new team and that’s great to be a part of that. It was really hard leaving the team I’m at. It’s the number one team in the world and it’s pretty hard to leave when you’ve got everything like that,” he told Cyclingnews, nevertheless emphasizing the prospect of a homeland project where his experience will be valuable.
“This is a new and exciting opportunity for the future, to help Australian cycling and help develop the young guys and pass on my years of experience,” he added.
O’Grady turned professional in 1995 at a time when the number of Australian road professionals could be counted on one had – in fact most of them rode on the same team, GAN. But in 2012 Australia is set to have their first WorldTour level team and ranked as the third most successful nation in the world behind Spain and Italy.
Despite this, O’Grady admitted that leaving Leopard Trek had been one of the toughest decisions of his career. Over the last six years has formed a strong bond between himself, the Schleck brothers, Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voigt. However, he told Cyclingnews that he never intended on signing a one-year deal with Leopard on the basis of moving to GreenEdge in 2012, despite the fact that the Australian team has been in the pipeline for some time.
“That was never in my mind. Even at the end of the Tour I was 90 percent sure I would stay at Leopard. It was a very hard decision to make. I did know that this team was going to go ahead and I had meetings with them in the past. I’ve known Shane for 20 odd years and we said well maybe we’d join in the future but I wish you all the best.”
Olympic test event
O’Grady will hope to line up in the Olympics in 2012. It would mark another milestone in his long career, being his sixth Games. On Sunday he rode the test event in London, which was shorter than the route competitors will take on next summer but still gave a flavour of what to expect.
“It’s a stressful circuit with a lot of lefts and rights and the road surface isn’t the best. You’ve really got to stay focused the whole way. I’ve raced in the UK before, not for a few years, so I know what it’s about. It’s always a bit of surprise. The course is quite technical and a lot harder than what everyone is expecting. Two times is nothing but after 200 kilometers and doing it nine times it’s going to be tough. It will certainly be a hard race to call.”
Having signed a two-year deal with GreenEdge the likelihood his that O’Grady will retire at the end of this term, as he’ll be 40 years-old then. However, his time in the sport may not end there. Having ridden for some of the most successful teams in the sport’s modern era, and with a wealth of experience to draw on, the chances of seeing O’Grady in a team car are high.
“It’s the most logical step, and there’s the comfort of the car. It’s pretty much what I’m doing on the bike at the moment with the boys. I enjoy the tactical side and that role so for sure there’s that opportunity in the future,” he agreed.