By Anthony Tan in Grenoble
Stuart O'Grady didn't plan on being there at the finish of the ninth stage to Mulhouse. Compared to the previous year, where he came into the Tour de France absolutely flying, the 31 year-old tough-as-nails Aussie isn't planning on being at his best until the second and third weeks of the race.
But on the previous stage to Gérardmer, O'Grady began to find his legs, and was still in the front group on the final climb until four kilometres to the summit, at which point he let go and eventually finished three minutes behind Pieter Weening. The next day, behind breakaway riders Rasmussen, Moreau and Voigt, he held his position up the last climb of the Ballon d'Alsace, and then marshaled his troops to set him up for the sprint finish, where he won the bunch kick for fourth place.
"I'm just feeling better and better each day, and obviously, the longer, tougher stages suit me better," he said to Cyclingnews. "My sprinting has been consistent, but not on the same level as McEwen and Boonen; obviously, I've shown I'm a bit stronger than them in the harder stages, so we'll just see how we go."
Asked if there were any concerns about his form coming into the race, Stuey said he wasn't worried at all. "I did a very different program this year. I've done a lot more racing. I've done about 50-odd days before the Tour this year - last year I did about 30 - and basically every race has been a ProTour event - they're big and hard races.
"This year, I came into [the Tour] probably not as well as I was going last year; last year, I was really flying after the Dauphiné. But maybe it's better this way - maybe it's better to come into the Tour and actually ride into it instead of coming out all guns blazing; hopefully, they'll be firing in the last week as well."
With talk still centred on Discovery's wake-up call on Stage 8, how did O'Grady feel they fared on Stage 9? "There wasn't the panic compared to the day before; I mean, Rasmussen was absolutely piloting out there - that was just amazing - and it was up to Discovery as to what they wanted to do - they choose who stays away and who doesn't. They controlled it...but I think there's a few cracks in the paint."