Stuart O’Grady has ridden through Paris-Roubaix’s ‘Hell of the North’ and won, but Sunday’s day in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne was in a class of its own.
“It was top three all time worst weather days I have other raced in,” O’Grady explained. “It was absolutely ridiculous.”
Australia’s O’Grady and the rest of his Saxo Bank team-mates pulled out of the race instead of fighting mother nature. A storm blew through western Europe Sunday, killing 47 people on France’s Atlantic coast and causing high winds and heavy rain for the race in western Belgium.
“I don’t think there is any other sport that would have kept going, but we kept trucking along even though there were rubbish bins blowing in the bunch and trees knocked over. It was pretty mad.”
O’Grady is building towards another sort of madness, though. April 11, in just over a month, O’Grady will aim to repeat his 2007 Paris-Roubaix win. This year’s task is just that little bit harder due to setbacks this off-season. O’Grady suffered a seizure after a motorbike ride on the Valencia race circuit, which put him in the hospital ahead of a return home to Adelaide. At home, pneumonia further delayed his training.
“I started riding only in December to be honest,” continued O’Grady. “I am happy with how things have progressed this season. I have five weeks until Paris-Roubaix, which is plenty of time to get everything going properly.”
He started his European season last weekend with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne after racing Tour Down Under, the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman in January and February. He believes this next month of racing will be vital to arriving on form for Paris-Roubaix.
“It will be extremely important. It is a time to knuckle down and get some good racing in: Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo. I am never really fantastic in Tirreno, so we will really see when I get to San Remo.”
Saxo Bank places special emphasis on the 260-kilometre race through northern France, noted by its deteriorated cobbled sectors and velodrome finish. The Danish team not only has O’Grady, but also Fabian Cancellara as a former winner, 2006.