Road Race heroics fall just short
Matt White had one word for his main man Stuey O’Grady’s brave ride in the Olympic road race: Incredible.
No-one argued with the boss of the men’s road race team. That’s precisely the description for a man on the cusp of his 39th birthday, riding at his sixth Olympics, spending nearly six hours in the saddle, setting the pace for the world’s best riders for almost the entire 250km, and then missing the gold medal by just eight seconds and the bronze medal by a couple of metres.
O’Grady finished sixth behind the winner, Alexandr Vinokurov of Kazakhastan and runner-up Rigoberto Uran Uran of Colombia, who crossed the line together. As the next 23 riders charged home just behind them, the gritty Australian veteran looked a big chance for the bronze medal, which would have been a massive result for him.
He just failed, but described it as “one of the rides of my life,” and added that the whole day had been “the most incredible day I’ve had in my life – without my wife. I’d better throw that in,” he added with a laugh.
White said: “He saved our race. But that is no surprise. He’s a class act.”
The rest of the Australians were in the peloton, a further 32 seconds behind O’Grady’s group, with Cadel Evans finishing 80th, Simon Gerrans 83rd, Matt Goss 85th and Mick Rogers 91st.
Working to a plan to be aggressive and put the heat on the opposition, especially the highly-fancied Great Britain team which included the race favourite, superstar sprinter Mark Cavendish, O’Grady organised a 12 man breakaway with the race just 20 km old.
The hope was that at some point one or more team-mates would be able to join him at the front while sprinter Matt Goss sat on Cavendish, ready to engage in a sprint to the finish if it came to that - which it never did.
Rogers had one go at catching up to O’Grady and his group but the five minute gap was way to much to reel in alone, so it was left to the old man to hang in there and do the best he could.
O’Grady was once a good enough sprinter to finish runner-up for the green jersey at the Tour de France three times but those days are gone, and he knew he was going to be under pressure at the end. “I had been in front for a long time and I just had to gamble everything on pulling out a miraculous sprint,” he said.
“It flashed through my mind for a while and I thought how cool would that be.
“Unfortunately I saw Vino go and while my head said to go with him my legs said, mate, you’ve done 250k out here. I was on the verge of cramping with every pedal stroke.”
White, who is also O’Grady’s director at the new Orica-GreenEDGE team that made its Tour de France debut this month, said O’Grady deserved the bronze medal, which would have nicely complimented the four others, including a gold, that he already has from track racing.
Ticking O’Grady’s many other achievements off on his fingers, including his 16 appearances at the Tour de France, White said: “No other athlete has done what he’s done in such a variety of events, right across the board from the shortest track races to the longest road race in the world, and he has been at the top for 20 years.”
Yes, that’s the word for it, alright – incredible