Stuart O’Grady has done more on the bike than most pro riders. The Australian’s 19-year pro career began on the track in the ’90s, where he racked up Olympic medals in the 1992 and 1996 Games. He then moved to the road where he wore the Tour de France yellow jersey and won Paris-Roubaix in the course of a long career. And now retired from racing, O’Grady has taken the helm at the Tour Down Under, the Australian stage race and traditional season opener.
Put Your Socks On caught up with O’Grady to talk about his career, his aims with the Tour Down Under, and how the Australian race is coping with the various complications related to the coronavirus pandemic.
PYSO co-host Bobby Julich raced with O’Grady twice in their careers, and he recalls how O’Grady had to leave the Tour twice, including once in a helicopter and once after riding the last 70km of a stage with a broken collarbone.
The helicopter ride came in 2007 helicopter as O’Grady was doing 90kph down the Cornet de Roseland. “I went over the top in the front group,” O’Grady recalls. “I went back to get bottles for [CSC teammate] Carlos [Sastre]. While coming back, [a rider] swerved to miss a hole as I was coming by, and took out my front wheel. I hit a pole, and that exploded everything. I had no feeling in my legs, and spent two weeks in the ICU.”
O’Grady also talks about some of his favorite moments from racing. “My lifelong ambition was the Olympics,” he said, admitting that the Tour de France wasn’t even on his radar early on. “I competed in six Olympics, which i think is a record for anyone who’s not riding a horse. And riding solo into the Roubaix velodrome was pretty cool as well.”
As for the current state of racing, O’Grady says he is glad he is retired.
“There’s no real control [in the peloton]. You know, back in the day, there was a lot of respect for the kind of elder riders, especially in the classics,” he said, alluding to a patron who would tell the riders when to ease off, or when it was okay to race. “These days is just it’s like the gloves are off. You know, it’s like a UFC cage fight. There’s no rules. They attack at random moments. You see a group attacking and I’m like, what the hell are they doing that for? Next minute they got six minutes and they win the race.”
Now O’Grady is the race director for Tour Down Under, which was held with great success at the beginning of this year, but has already been postponed for 2021.
“Being a part of the race from day one, the last couple of years of my career, I guess I started thinking, you know, I’d like to take on the reins of this, I think I can make a pretty cool race, because we haven’t actually raced down a lot of the roads,” he said.
O’Grady and the TDU team looked into holding the race at its normal time in 201 with heavy quarantine protocols. But the logistics of that — plus the act that the UCI announced that the race next year would not be mandatory for WorldTour teams — meant that they decided to ultimately just postpone the race.