O'Grady & McEwen aim for Paris

For Australian sprinters Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) and Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto), the rest day was a much-needed chance to do just that.

O'Grady echoed the general sentiment that this has been an unusually tough Tour. "It's been pretty tiring the last couple of days and the rest day is very well deserved," he said. "It's been flat out for the first couple of weeks and it's been the fastest and hardest Tour that I've done.

"Come the rest day everything goes into shutdown mode so I had a pretty good sleep, woke up about 9.00 am to Whitey making a racket - he woke me up as usual. He reckons he is quiet but he wakes up at the crack of dawn and then you hear his Nokia phone clicking away.

"We went for an hour and a half ride, had a coffee and then rolled back. Had a laid back lunch then a massage, a bit of physio and then a big relax. I might have a cold beer later on."

As well as the speed of racing, the weather has been affecting the riders recent. "The last couple of days have been pretty full on and the heat and humidity have been as bad as out the back of Adelaide in January. Seriously hot," said O'Grady. "The roads have been melting and it's been so hard for the team cars to keep up bidons to us. At times we've had to get bottles of water from other cars."

Like most of the sprinters, O'Grady finished stage 14 in the 'autobus', the group of non-climbers that works together every day to stay within the time limit. The bus arrived just over 44 minutes behind George Hincapie, and O'Grady's long day in the saddle was made even harder by transport hassles before and after the stage.

"e had to go one and a half hours in the bus to the start, race seven hours, then two hours in the bus home," said O'Grady. "Didn't start dinner until after 9.00pm then massage and then try and get some sleep.

"I was cursing Jean Marie up the last climb because seriously it is getting to the limits of what a person can do."

Afterwards O'Grady knew he was tired. "Lying in bed before and my heart rate is clicking over at 35 bpm. For me, that means I need a good rest. Whereas most riders heart rate goes up when they need a break mine is the opposite."

O'Grady is 14 points behind leader Thor Hushovd in the sprinters' green jersey points contest, and eight points ahead of Robbie McEwen. Intermediate sprints between here and Paris may make the difference in who wears green on the final podium.

"I suppose I will need to go for the first intermediate sprint but it's hard to beat Robbie at the start of the day," said O'Grady. "Well it's pretty hard to beat him anytime but I need to concentrate on my game plan and take each day as it comes. I hope that in a couple of the stages coming up, I can stay with the leaders and Thor and Robbie will miss the move."

O'Grady's rival Robbie McEwen didn't get as mush rest as he'd hoped for on the rest day. "I would have liked to at least have a sleep in on the rest day but no, I was woken up at 8.00 am for a spot drug control," said McEwen. "I don't mind the tests, actually the more the better, but after the hardest day of the Tour that consisted of seven hours on the bike and nearly four hours in the team bus, well I think a bit more thought could go into it."

After the rest, McEwen is looking forward to Paris. "I'm feeling a lot better and although I don't think there will be another bunch sprint before Paris I will have to be prepared," he said. "I would dearly love to top off the Tour with a win on the Champs Elysees. It would make it a sensational Tour with or without the green jersey."

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