After 15 Tours de France, Stuart O'Grady will be taking on a different role when he lines up for Orica-GreenEdge this Saturday. The veteran says that while the often gruelling three-weeks in the saddle does not get any easier, time has resulted in certain perspicacity.
"It's going to be a new experience this time around without having someone like [Fabian] Cancellara who's normally won the prologue the last few years. I don't think they get any easier but it does get easier knowing that unless you have any physical problems or injuries you can get to Paris – normally," he laughs.
Consider O'Grady's recent Tours and the sight of the Australian drilling the pace at the front of the peloton in the first week was a regular one. This time around, it's unlikely that he'll be as obviously spotted. He will maintain his role as 'road captain' though but it's the wheel of sprinter Matt Goss that he'll be protecting.
"Once upon a time I was sprinting for the green jersey so I know what it takes," he told Cyclingnews. "I know when and when not to expend energy so hopefully I'll be trying to pass on all my knowledge to Gossy and the boys so we can hopefully go for the green jersey with Gossy in Paris."
O'Grady was second in the points classification in 2001 and 2005, third in 2002 and while the structure may have changed with an intermediate sprint added last year, the battle remains the same. He admits to missing the adrenaline rush "for a while" but those days are long gone.
"I've had my time and I guess as you get older, guys get faster and you get slower," he says. "I've had my fair share of pretty massive crashes and seeing all those guys up there boxing on, it's not for the faint hearted."
While Goss' bid for the points classification will be Orica-GreenEdge's enduring mission in the team's Tour debut, there should be plenty of opportunities for the rest of the team to take their chances in breakaways – including O'Grady.
"The beauty of not having a GC rider is that it doesn't shut the whole team down, everyone's going to get their chance whether it be Albasini, Gerrans," he explains. "Everyone's going to have their own crack at a stage. I'm sure I'll have the opportunity but at the end of the day it comes down to a bit of luck and legs on your side."
O'Grady's last race before the Tour was the Tour de Suisse, and having done the Tour of Norway in May, he has one extra stage race in his legs than what he usually would at this point of the season. Admitting this week on his twitter feed that his legs don't know what else to do other than to keep spinning, O'Grady suspects that his form is slightly better than this time last year.
"Switzerland was a really important race, not only physically, but mentally as well," he admits. "We had some super-hard days. There were a couple of stages where it was very much as you'd expect in the Tour de France. Some big high mountains and I got through. The longer the race went on the better I was feeling. Actually on the last day, the queen stage I was up there with some pretty notable climbers so I came out of the Tour of Switzerland really happy with my progress and how everything's going for July."
BMC Racing Team's George Hincapie will break the all-time record of Dutch legend Joop Zoetemelk (16) for the most appearances at the Tour de France, but O'Grady isn't willing to put a time limit on his own career just yet.
"I just concentrate on the one in front of me," he says. "When you said 16 I probably scared myself. It made me think how fast the time has gone. I just take it one at a time and as long as my body agrees with me and I manage to keep it upright then who knows?"
As a sports journalist and producer since 1997, Jane has covered Olympic and Commonwealth Games, rugby league, motorsport, cricket, surfing, triathlon, rugby union, and golf for print, radio, television and online. However her enduring passion has been cycling.
Jane is a former Australian Editor of Cyclingnews from 2011 to 2013 and continues to freelance within the cycling industry.
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