Stuart O'Grady has admitted he has ridden his last race with Bjarne Riis’s Saxo Bank team after he was sent home from the Vuelta a España for going out for a late night drink.
O’Grady and Andy Schleck went out after dinner on the first rest day in Tarragona but Riis deemed their behaviour broke internal team rules and they headed home instead of starting Monday’s tenth stage.
O’Grady will now have to rethink his build-up for the world road race championships in Australia and is likely to travel down under earlier for his final race of the 2010 season.
Australian national performance director Shayne Bannan suggested he will have to be more focused and committed with his training, doing motor pacing to replace racing at the Vuelta.
“The decision has cost me two weeks of hard racing preparing for the worlds in Geelong,” O’Grady told The Australian newspaper. “But I guess it means that I can bring the family home a little earlier than expected.”
“It also means I've ridden my last race for Saxo Bank. This is not the way I would have wanted my career racing for Bjarne Riis to end. I've ridden my guts out on the front for the team for the last six seasons.”
O’Grady will leave Riis’ team at the end of the season. He has been linked to the new Luxembourg team being built around Andy and Frank Schleck, where other Saxo Bank teammates such as Jens Voigt and Jakob Fuglsang are expected to ride in 2011.
O’Grady joined the team in 2006, won Paris-Roubaix in 2007 and became a cornerstone of the team in both the classic and the Tour de France.
He denied he and Schleck had been out drinking until 5am and claimed Riis’ decision had been harsh.
“We stepped out of the team hotel at 10pm and stopped for a couple of beers at a bar in the local piazza,” O'Grady said.
“We had two beers, that's all. Some members of the European press over here have made us sound like we were on the drink all night. That's simply not true. I don't want to sound like I'm whinging, but the decision to pull us out of the race was harsh.”
Motor pacing in Australia
Fellow Australia Simon Gerrans is on his way to Australia after Team Sky pulled out of the Vuelta following the tragic death of soigneur Txema Gonzalez. He admitted he will do a lot of motor pacing in Melbourne to recreate the racing he will miss. Bannan expects O’Grady to do the same.
"I've exchanged SMSs with him and I will be having a chat with him today," Bannan told AAP.
"What's written in the media and what's factual can be sometimes two completely different things - I will be talking to him about it. But more importantly, I will be talking to him about the steps from here to make sure he's in the best condition possible for Melbourne."
"Obviously, in the ideal world, it would have been good for them to complete the Vuelta," Bannan said of Gerrans and O’Grady.
"But at the same time, they have to change tack and really focus on their training preparation. Any preparation has its hiccups, but in general, we're still pretty pleased with the way things are progressing. Forgetting the circumstances, if you look at both the guys, they are experienced and know how to prepare for important events.”
“Obviously there's a lot more sacrifice and commitment, because you have to get out there and do it yourself, or with a (pacing) motorbike. But it certainly can be done and both those guys have had the experience of doing that type of preparation before."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.