Stuart O’Grady is confident that his Leopard Trek team have reached form just in time for their biggest objectives of the early season, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The Australian has been Flanders favourite Fabian Cancellara’s key lieutenant in recent weeks, and he is set to reprise that role on Sunday.
“I think coming into this year, we’ve ridden very hard together as a team since Qatar and Oman, but the ideas have been on this Sunday and next Sunday,” O’Grady said at Leopard Trek’s pre-race press conference in Kortrijk on Friday. “We’ve done a lot of hard work and we come here quietly confident, looking to stay calm and keep out of trouble and then let the Swiss machine do the rest.”
On the past two weekends, O’Grady has given ample demonstration of his mettle in support of Cancellara. Two weeks ago, he was part of an escape on the descent of the Cipressa at Milan-San Remo, while last Saturday E3 Prijs, he dropped back from the break to help pace his leader to the front of the race. At Flanders, he will have a large say in deciding the squad’s tactics on the road in his role as captain.
“My goal is just to make sure that we’re ready for the strategy and the plan that we have on morning or the night before the race, and that each rider is prepared to do his job 100 percent,” O’Grady said. “Anything and everything can happen out on the road, and you just have to be ready to make split-second decisions. Sometimes they can be very critical decisions, so you’ve got to hope it’s the right one.
“Everyone’s got a job to do. We’re just hoping the job isn’t too hard. Obviously keeping Fabian at the front and out of trouble is the first and foremost, and after that the rider with the legs will decide.”
O’Grady has a wealth of experience in the cobbled classics, but the 2007 Paris-Roubaix winner explained that the fundamentals of such monuments remain unchanged from his early years as a professional.
“[The Tour of Flanders] is one of the monuments, one of those legendary races,” he said. “It’s always a very difficult day, with difficult conditions, very dangerous and has all the ingredients for a lot of chaos. It can be a real roller coaster ride out there. It’s a great race when you’re going good, but it can be a real bastard of a race when you’re going bad.”