Stuart O’Grady ready to step up if Fabian Cancellara falters at Paris-Roubaix

Defending champion Fabian Cancellara "has shown the form" to go for the win, "but if he gives me the green light, I'm ready to go," says Stuart O'Grady.

Stuart O'Grady racing for the victory in 2007. Photo: AFP (file)
Stuart O'Grady racing for the victory in 2007.

PARIS (AFP) — Stuart O’Grady said he would be primed for a second shot at Paris-Roubaix glory on Sunday if circumstances rule Leopard-Trek team leader Fabian Cancellara out of defending his title in the tough one-day classic.

Cancellara will saddle up as the big favorite for the 258km cobbled classic, having won the race in 2006 and in 2010, when he finished with a two-minute lead on Thor Hushovd.

However, the unseasonably hot weather, tactics and the fact that some big teams have not yet won a major classic this spring could conspire to eliminate Cancellara from the equation.

Although world champion Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) and three-time champion Tom Boonen (Quick Step) are Cancellara’s biggest threats on paper, O’Grady believes the race is wide open.

And having won the race in 2007, when Cancellara got stuck behind in a group of favorites, the veteran Australian says he is prepared to go for it again.

“Fabian’s shown the form to do that (go for victory), but if he gives me the green light, I’m ready to go,” O’Grady told AFP Saturday. “I’ve got to be ready if that happens, and anything can happen in Paris-Roubaix. No situation’s going to surprise me.”

He added: “There’s a lot of names being thrown around but I really think it’s going to be an opportunists’ race, where you see that second-level rider take the race out while everyone’s looking at Fabian and Tom.”

With temperatures set to hit 25 degrees (77 Fahrenheit), O’Grady — born and raised in sunny Adelaide — couldn’t have asked for better conditions on Sunday.

“I’m definitely having flashbacks of 2007,” said O’Grady, who became the first Australian winner in Roubaix four years ago.

“The weather is definitely much warmer than what we expected. At Flanders last week, where a lot of guys cramped, the weather caught everyone out.

“I don’t know how many guys here have been training in 20 plus degrees in the last couple of months, but there’s not too many. Me, personally, I couldn’t have asked for a better day.”

Boonen, meanwhile, has a chance to equal compatriot Roger De Vlaeminck’s record of four wins.

A week after his fourth-place finish at Flanders — one place behind Cancellara — the Quick Step leader says that when it comes to beating the Swiss, there is no magic recipe.

“I don’t think there’s any big secrets — you just have to stay with him,” said Boonen, who won the race in 2005, 2008 and 2009.

“There’s not many tactics you can plan before Paris-Roubaix. After just a few of the cobbled sections it’s possible you’ve lost half of your team, because of crashes, for example.”

The pressure is on Hushovd’s Garmin-Cervelo team. The team boasts several classics specialists, but has failed to shine this spring.

O’Grady added: “Garmin have got something to prove, whether they like it or not. They’ve got a lot of champions in their team. Sunday night, the classics campaign is over for a lot of us. A lot of guys will be wanting to go and win tomorrow.”

Hushovd came third in 2009, was runner-up last year, and is now hoping to finally land a victory in his dream race.

“Every year I come to Paris-Roubaix hoping to win the race and tomorrow I’ll be going out with the same objective,” said the Norwegian.

A year after he left all of his rivals in the dust at Flanders and Roubaix on his way to an historic double, Cancellara’s result last week showed he is not unbeatable.

And the Swiss says victory won’t come easy.

“I know from last week that a lot of guys are going well and I have plenty of respect for my rivals,” said Cancellara.

“I know Paris-Roubaix and I know how difficult the race can be, especially with the temperatures into the 20s.

“All we can do is the maximum until we get to the finish line.”