What's Cool In Road Cycling

Rest Day Talk: Stuart O’Grady!

Bjarne Riis is the proud father; PR ‘fixer’ Brian Nygaard the mother hen; their CSC ducklings sit in a row beside them – they all look chiselled, tanned, androgynous – and fed up! Ed Hood sat in on the CSC Press Conference on the final rest day and then got a chance to have a one on one with Stuart O’Grady. Read On!

It’s the CSC press conference on the rest day. Frank Schleck just grabbed the Maillot Jaune and Martin has arranged an interview with Stuart O’Grady through his ‘trackie’ friend and long-time Stuey buddy, Pete Jacques.

We have to give Stuey a password – obviously we cannot divulge this, but Darth Vader is involved.

In the conference room, the huddles form round Sastre, Schleck and Voigt, meanwhile we sit down with Stuey out in the cool and shade of the hotel garden. One of the “I’m too sexy to be a journo” brigade tries to muscle in on our interview; “we’ve not got a lot of time!” he spits at us. But we sit tight, and so does Stuey.

He’s skinnier than I’ve ever seen him and burnt dark brown with so many days spent racing under fierce southern suns; around his elbows are the darker patches of scar tissue. I’ve never met gladiators, but I’m sure they would look a lot like Stuey.

PEZ: How come you all look so pee-ed off Stuey?
Stuey: It’s so damn hot and uncomfortable, sitting there!

PEZ: Have you recovered from your crash, last year?
Stuey: I’m trying to forget about it, but yeah, it’s all good now. I had seven or eight broken ribs, three broken vertebrae and two broken shoulders – so I know how Pereiro feels!

PEZ: How many seasons now?
Stuey: This is my 14th as a pro, and my 12th Tour.

PEZ: Do you still live in Toulouse?
Stuey: No, Monaco; Toulouse was nice, but a bit isolated. I have to think about the family now, I’m away for three or four weeks at a time at Grand Tours; in Monaco there’s the parks and the beach, it’s much better for the family.

PEZ: All your career with French teams, and now CSC, different?
Stuey: You wouldn’t believe the differences; you think a bike team is a bike team – get some riders, some bikes, a sponsor and off you go. But the mentality is so different, in CSC the language is English, so everything is clear. The team doesn’t have a ‘Spanish clique’ or an ‘Italian Mafia,’ we’re all friends and have respect for each other. French teams have the tradition and the history, but they don’t have a modern view, especially on training methods – it’s ok sticking a power metre on your handlebars, but you have to know how to use the information. I enjoyed my time on French teams and have no regrets, but it’s just so much different and better organised her.

PEZ: Bjarne Riis, two different guys, aloof and suspicious with the press, like a dad to his riders?
Stuey: Two different guys? – yeah, that’s a good way to put it! We’re all two different guys though, aren’t we? Especially after we’ve had a few beers! He is very warm with the people he works with, but a one-on-one with people he doesn’t know, isn’t his best situation.

PEZ: le Tour 2008, any personal agenda, or all for Frank and Carlos.
Stuey: All for those guys!

PEZ: A new job then, lieutenant instead of capo?
Stuey: Yeah, with the French teams I was team leader, here I’m team captain on the road. It’s a different role and one I enjoy but it carries a lot of responsibility. Bjarne or Kim (Andersen) are in the car, I’m right there, looking at the guys, involved in the action, feeling it. The team car may be 20 back in the line, so management doesn’t have the insight that I do; sometimes I have to challenge the boss and change the tactic. I’ve made critical decisions and changed tactics on the road, and up until now, my judgements have been right.

PEZ: Carlos and Frank, conflicts?
Stuey: There’s only one spot on top of the podium and they both want it! They’ll continue to ride their own races and we’ll see what happens.

PEZ: Frank, can he handle the pressure?
Stuey: He’s here to learn and he has a good crew around him, that’s why we have the press conference – once it’s finished, the phone gets switched off and that’s it. When I had the yellow jersey, the next best thing was losing it! I couldn’t believe the pressure and demands it placed on me. I don’t know how Lance coped with it for all those years.

PEZ: I hate to ask, but Beltran, Ricco & Co?
Stuey: We’re all pissed off, I simply cannot fathom their mentality; they know that there’s going to be all these tests. I’d give them life time bans. The first time I heard of ‘CERA’ was on the internet over the last few days. If we have all these tests now and they’re still getting caught, what was it like before? I try not to think about it – you remember situations and think I should really have won this race, or that race. It’s sad, but a minority is spoiling the sport for everyone.

PEZ: What about that descent off Prato yesterday, after the stage?
Stuey: It’s the most dangerous part of the Tour de France and l’Alpe D’Huez will be worse. There are a lot of people, a lot of sun and a lot of alcohol. We decided to come down in the cars, because the road was so slippy, but it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

The bike of the Tour leader.

PEZ: The Olympics?
Stuey: I’m going for the road and every kilometre I ride here is for Beijing. Simon Gerrans won yesterday, Cadel was in yellow, so we have a team that has good form. I’ve shown in the past that I always recover well from a Grand Tour, so I hope to be in good shape.

PEZ: And after the Olympics?
Stuey: I’d like a good crack at the Worlds. Quite a few riders have said to me that the circuit is right up my street. I haven’t ridden it, but I watched videos of the stage that Jens (Voigt) won on it in the Giro.

PEZ: How many more seasons, and then what?
Stuey: It varies from day to day. I’m talking to Bjarne shortly about the next two years. The Worlds is in Melbourne in 2010 and I really want to do that. If I won, I would do another year. After that, maybe a DS role.

We timed it right, just as I asked that last question, the “too sexy” boys were back; for us, time for a coffee, for Stuey, more questions and then maybe some family time.

On the road to Fossano we pass Philppe Gilbert out for an easy pedal and Massimiliano Mori, adjusting his iPod. As we drink our coffee, Lampre amble past; “ciao Ballan!” “Ciao!” he shouts back – rest day, yeah, that works!

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