Press Release courtesy of Gennie Sheer, Austrailian Cycling
Sunday January 19th
South Australian Stuart O’Grady today sprinted to victory and the honour of wearing the green and gold Australian champions jersey for 2003 when he won the 180 kilometre men’s road race at the 2003 BMC Software Australian Open Road Championships in a time of 4hr51min37sec.
O’Grady, 29, already owns an enviable collection of jerseys including Tour de France yellow and green, world track championship rainbow coloured and the jersey he wore to victory in the 2002 Commonwealth Games road race.
But, despite being one of the most successful cyclists ever to represent Australia O’Grady had never claimed the national road crown. That changed today when he won by half a wheel from Queensland’s Allan Davis, 22, with South Australian, Patrick Jonker, 33, third in the 180km event at Buninyong, near Ballarat, Victoria.
“In past years I haven’t really been aggressive enough but today I said ‘stuff it – I’m gonna go for it’,” said an exhausted O’Grady after crossing the line. “It was a long, hard day in the saddle and Pat (Jonker) gave it a big nudge with two laps to go (20 kilometres) but I stayed with him.”
“I was really geed today to get a result,” said O’Grady who rides with the French registered Credit Agricole professional team in Europe. “ Now I’ve had two wins in the past year – Commonwealth Games and national titles - pretty important ones, so I’m really happy.”
Jonker had been in the action from the second lap when he went out with a group of 15 riders which tried to establish a lead. But it was reeled in and the main contenders were back together at the 80km mark. Ten kilometres later Sydney’s Steve Williams launched a solo break which sparked a chain reaction. O’Grady went after him and Jonker joined another chase group soon after.
Nine riders then held the lead with Davis and two others joining them at the 130 kilometre mark but there was no sign of defending champion Robbie McEwen who was left behind with the main bunch.
Less than 20 kilometres from home the pressure was on as Jonker attacked and Davis and O’Grady went with him shattering the lead group of fourteen.
“I really liked the circuit but perhaps I attacked too early and spent too long on the front in that first break,” said Jonker who in 1996 was 12th overall in the Tour de France but is unsure which team he will race for this season. “I didn’t have what I needed then in the last two laps to shake off Stuey or Al and basically knew in the final lap I was riding for third.”
Davis, who was this year signed by the Spanish ONCE-Eroski team put in a strong effort against his more experienced rivals overtaking Jonker in the final 100 metres and setting a tough task for O’Grady who was glued to his back wheel.
“I haven’t raced against Al for a while and he looked pretty comfortable out there so I knew he’d be strong in the final sprint,” said O’Grady who managed to overhaul the Bundaberg rider on the line. “He has a lot of potential and a big future ahead of him.”
“This win is right up there with my Tour de France and other achievements,” said O’Grady. “The Australian jersey carries a lot of pride with it in Europe and it will be brilliant to wear it this year.”
O’Grady takes the jersey from the shoulders of McEwen who last year wore it to Tour de France points jersey glory and the most wins by a professional for the 2002 season.
“It made a big difference to Robbie’s year so let’s see if I can copy him,” said O’Grady.
“I think my team uniform knicks are one of the few that match the Aussie jersey,” O’Grady had joked in the lead up to the event referring to his predominantly green Credit Agricole strip but will now have the chance to model the ensemble.
2002 was a year of mixed fortune for O’Grady who bounced back from surgery to repair his iliac artery in March to claim seven top ten stage finishes and third overall in the points competition of the Tour de France.
“The surgery was obviously a great success because I rode the Tour de France afterwards and had no problems,” said O’Grady. “But I also didn’t have the form I wanted because of the time off to recover.”
He had, however, recovered by the time he lined up with the Australian team in Manchester where he headed a clean sweep of the medals in the Commonwealth Games road race. He married in November last year.