O'Grady admits it could all have ended early
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

O'Grady admits it could all have ended early

by Agence France-Presse at 9:30 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
Stuart O'Grady finally came through one of his "toughest" Tour de France campaigns as the peloton headed out of the Alps and steadily towards Paris on Thursday.

However, the Australian admitted he almost never made it as far as the second mountain range of this year's race after finding out he was carrying a virus three days into the race, "I didn't know it at the time but I was a bit crook. It turned out it was pretty serious," O'Grady told AFP. "When the results came through it was actually a relief."

O'Grady spent the remainder of the race working for the yellow jersey interests of team leaders Frank Schleck and Carlos Sastre.

Sastre finally took on the official mantle of CSC's leader on Wednesday when he finished 2min 15sec ahead of Cadel Evans to take the yellow jersey and leave the Australian 1:34 off his leading pace.

The race to succeed absent Spaniard Alberto Contador, to whom Evans finished 23secs in arrears last year, will now go down to the penultimate stage time trial, a 53km race from Cerilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond.

Evans is being tipped to overhaul his deficit to the Spaniard and thus claim the yellow jersey.

However, O'Grady said that whatever the result, he was happy with his and CSC's contribution to what has been a thrilling three weeks of racing. "Whatever happens happens," he said following the 18th stage which took the peloton out of the Alps to Saint Etienne. "If he (Sastre) wins the Tour de France or not, we've done everything we can - we've taken control of the race, we've done everything to plan so far. "It's better he's got a 1:34 lead than a 1:34 deficit, so let the better man win."

It was during the alpine stages of this year's race that O'Grady finally managed to regain some form, taking some of the early turns of pace as CSC set about trying to tire out their rivals before the crucial climbs.

O'Grady explained: "This year the team's got a lot of confidence and definitely taken control of the race, which we've done in the past but mostly in 'spasms'. "This year we've taken control by using a tactic that we planned and not because of anything else. "We've been aggressive in a way, but very smart. We may have put myself earlier on the front than expected, for a certain reason, but at the end of the day it's going to have the same result."

It's a turnaround in fortune for O'Grady, whose career almost came to an abrupt end last year when he sustained serious injuries during the race's eighth stage as he descended the Cormet de Roseland climb.

This year, he came through the treacherous Pyrenees and alpine stages, although it could have all been so different due to the illness that dogged him throughout the first week. "I was flat, it was annoying me as well. I just wasn't myself," he added. "In the Pyrenees I was still in a bit of trouble, I suffered enough there but I just kept telling myself I was going to get better."

There were a few times when O'Grady almost clicked out of his cleats and gave up the race, although he says the thought went through his mind so regularly he lost count exactly when. "I can't remember. Every climb I came to my body wasn't working! There was one day my foot was coming close to clicking right, I can tell you."

The solid work of Bjarne Riis's team has left them in sight of the prized yellow jersey that Sastre took on Wednesday after overnight leader, teammate Frank Schleck, gave him the green light to launch his successful attack on the Alpe d'Huez.

In the end, O'Grady said it didn't matter whether it was Schleck or Sastre who triumphed in Paris. "If we can't work together then none of us is going to work. Bjarne made that very clear to us from the beginning."

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