STUART O’GRADY was savouring his best performance in a bike race for months when his teammates suddenly reminded him that his best victories came every three years and just after a career – or sometimes life-threatening injury or illness.It was this week, after last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders one-day classic in Belgium in which O’Grady played a crucial role in helping his Swiss team leader, Fabian Cancellara, win in a magnificent solo breakaway to distance the Belgian champion and race favourite Tom Boonen (QuickStep).O’Grady’s ride after recovering from bacterial pneumonia in December came one week out from tomorrow’s biggest one-day classic of all, the 259-kilometre Paris-to-Roubaix race, aka L’Enfer du Nord (Hell of the North) because of the 27 treacherous stretches of bone-jarring cobblestones that total 52.9km.O’Grady (Saxo Bank) is one of eight Australians entered in the 108th edition of the race. The others are Brett Lancaster (Cervelo), Matt Wilson (Garmin Transitions), Baden Cooke (Saxo Bank), Adam Hansen (HTC-Columbia), Matt Goss (HTC-Columbia), Matt Hayman (Sky) and Chris Sutton (Sky). The Adelaide-born O’Grady is the only Australian to have ever won the race.In 2007, Cancellara – then the favourite, as he is this year – graciously told O’Grady as the race reached its crucial moments that he could not win.For O’Grady, who had flogged himself to help Cancellara, this became an open invitation to charge into cycling history and join some of the all-time greats as a Paris-Roubaix champion.On the eve of this year’s race, which starts at Compiegne, 80km northeast of Paris, O’Grady is in a similar position. He is back to full health and Cancellara is the favourite.Again, O’Grady is keen to help Cancellara win, but will strike if need be.As much as O’Grady has savoured his many successes – from the Paris-Roubaix to Tour de France stage wins, yellow and green jerseys and Olympic gold medals – he has suffered for them.In his career the 36-year-old has broken his ribs 16 times, his vertebrae four times, his collarbones or shoulders four times, and cracked his skull and wrist. A tachycardia condition has struck twice, and he has sustained a punctured lung, three blood clots to the brain and one brain seizure (caused by a 1999 mugging) and one iliac artery clot.”I don’t do it on purpose, that’s for sure,” O’Grady said this week. ”Crashing sucks â?¦ the rehabilitation sucks even more.”Training and racing every day, you are hurting and getting your arse kicked. Then after four months it kicks in and you feel, ‘ jeez, that feels good’.”It’s nice to decimate a field, then you inflict more damage and you watch your teammates win. It gives your morale a lift and you want to keep doing it.So can O’Grady do it again – for himself or Cancellara – tomorrow?”I’m probably 10 per cent behind where I’d like to be,” O’Grady says. ”My role could be similar to 2007. It will be up to him if he wants me to protect him in the first 240km, or controlling the break and he comes across. That’s the beauty of a team with Fabian â?¦”I did my work for him. Then he wasn’t having a good day and gave me the green light to go for it. I didn’t have to be asked twice â?¦”
Nanjing Night Net