- ADELAIDE 17 - 25 January 2015
Local hero O’Grady still the man of the moment
While stars like Andre Greipel, Andy Schleck, Philippe Gilbert and Simon Gerrans continue to dominate the headlines and put Adelaide on the international cycling map at this year’s Santos Tour Down Under, one name tops them all in popularity – Stuart O’Grady.
The 39-year-old South Australian, a four-time Olympic medallist who won gold in Athens and a man synonymous with Aussies in the Tour de France, has bike riding in his blood – a true blue champion who continually puts his body on the line.
The kind of rider Australian cycling fans can relate to.
His father was a South Australian road champion and his uncle was a 1964 Olympian.
And ask anyone in cycling who they think is the toughest and one of the most popular men in the peloton and the name Stuart O’Grady invariably bobs up.
He may be the oldest member of the Australian-based ORICA GreenEDGE Team, lining up to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his victory in the first ever Tour Down Under in 1999, but he’s also the most reliable.
Only a handful of names from that era are still riding – including the man who won the Young Rider Classification that year, 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans and fellow elite professional tour rider and three time world time trial champion Michael Rogers.
In fact the man who was third to Evans in the 1999 Young Rider classification, Matthew Wilson is the Team Manager for ORICA GreenEDGE at this year's race.
O'Grady remains only one of three riders (along with Greipel and Gerrans) who have won multiple Tours Down Under – having added title number two in 2001 when he kept a host of international riders at bay.
“I’m glad I won it in the early days of the event”, O’Grady told presenters Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen at the teams’ presentation in Victoria Square, highlighting the development of the race to it's current WorldTour status.
“We’re here to win it," said O’Grady on behalf of his ORICA GreenEDGE team.
The ORICA GreenEDGE team were front and centre trying to get sprint star Matthew Goss to line in the People's Choice Classic on Sunday night and in the end he did well to finish second to German sprint sensation Greipel.
And it was O’Grady who was largely responsible for having one of his best mates, 2010 Tour de France winner, Schleck finally agree to ride in this year’s tour.
Such is his persuasive powers that Schleck and so many other riders will continue to come to O’Grady’s home town to make Adelaide one of the world’s most popular cycling cities in the world– they are sold on it – even if O’Grady isn’t racing.
If the 108,000 people who turned out for the 51km People’s Choice Classic around Rymill Park on Sunday night is any indication then the 2013 event will be another huge success.
The international first timers into South Australia are thrilled to be here.
“I love it," said Germany’s up-and-coming sprinter Marcel Kittel. “The atmosphere makes me look forward to racing.”
Kazakhstan veteran Andreï Kaschechkin echoed those thoughts, saying: “This is my first time here, it’s super!”
The crowd who attended the Victoria Square presentation were delighted to see the rainbow jersey worn by BMC racing star Philippe Gilbert with the world champion making no secret of his aim to score in the first WorldTour race of the season.
National champions of Norway (Edvald Boasson Hagen), Great-Britain (Ian Stannard), USA (Tim Duggan), Switzerland (Martin Kohler) and Lithuania (Gediminas Bagdonas) all received special attention but logically not as much as newly crowned Australian champion Luke Durbridge of ORICA GreenEDGE.
Oldest starter Jens Voigt, at 41, remains a perennial favourite with the fans 16 years after beginning his professional career with Australian-Czech team ZVVZ-Giant.
But none of the riders – not even defending champion Gerrans – could match the cheers reserved for the hometown hero - O’Grady.
'Stuey' as the cycling fans affectionately call him is 'still the man' and they’ll be lining the streets and roads cheering him on as the 2013 Santos Tour Down Under winds its way around Adelaide and the regions of South Australia no matter where he is sitting in the peloton.
There’s nothing better than a local hero.