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5th Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under - 2.3
Australia, January 21-26, 2003
News for January 20, 2003
O'Grady ready for win number three
Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under opens in Adelaide
By Jeff Jones in Adelaide
Five of the main protagonists of the 5th Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under were present in Adelaide's Hilton hotel today for a pre-race grilling by the local and international media. Among them were defending champion Michael Rogers (Quick Step-Davitamon), two time winner and 2003 Australian champion Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole), Tour de France green jersey winner Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo), regular Italian visitor and JCTDU stage winner Fabio Sacchi (Saeco-Longoni Sport), and top Spanish tour rider Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE-Eroski).
Being an Adelaide boy, a lot of attention is always given to Stuart O'Grady in this event. After winning the inaugural event in 1999 and following that up with another in 2001, O'Grady is still hungry for more. Yesterday at the Australian championships in Buninyong, Victoria, O'Grady demolished a top quality field to take the green and gold jersey, indicating that this week he means business.
"It's been a good last couple of months," said O'Grady. "I'd have to say that this is the best prepared I've come into the Tour Down Under. It was a good confidence booster yesterday to win the national title - it was a very difficult race. It's pretty hard to pull off a big performance in January without all your teammates behind you."
O'Grady won yesterday by being strong and aggressive, and he wants to carry that over into this week where those qualities will count. "Hopefully I can recover for the first main road stage [on Wednesday]. I've got a bit of motivation now with my first national road title. It was a confidence booster."
"I know the route and I know how the race works," he said. "The national jersey is probably going to magnify that, but I'll just take it as it comes, day by day. It's a race where you have to be aggressive. You can't afford to sit back and play your cards. You've just got to get out there, be aggressive and make the others play catchup."
O'Grady and the rest of the field will have their first hit out on Tuesday evening, in the 50 km East End Adelaide Street Race. "Tomorrow night is always pretty tricky because it's a really fast circuit race and everyone's pretty gee'd to show their director on the sidelines that they've done a bit of training over winter or summer," he said. "But in the first road stage I'm pretty sure I'll be OK. It's probably going to be a little dent in the legs. Hopefully by the third day and the fourth day I'll get better and better."
One of O'Grady's rivals will be Michael Rogers, the Quick Step-Davitamon rider who won the 2002 JCTDU in somewhat dramatic fashion. The story is well known now: A motorbike marshal destroyed Rogers' rear derailleur on the penultimate stage, and it looked as though his chances were gone. But Rogers was saved by an incredible piece of luck. A spectator (Adam Pyke) was standing on the side of the road when the crash happened, and his Colnago C40 bike was the same size as Rogers', even down to the pedals. He immediately gave the bike to Rogers, who remounted and caught the leading group. He finished second and took the tour lead, which he successfully defended on the final day.
The question was asked of Rogers this year: Will Adam Pyke be at the side of the road again with a spare bike? "I'm riding a different bike this year so he'll have to buy a new bike," joked Rogers at the press conference. "I'm going to have him there on all the climbs this year."
On a more serious note, Rogers says that he's "feeling pretty good. I had a good race yesterday [at the National's]. I was in the same boat as Robbie - chasing all day. I'm feeling pretty confident, not feeling too much pressure. I'm looking forward to getting started."
He's also not overwhelmed by being the defending champion in the spotlight. "I don't think there's really any spotlight to shine. Everyone goes in with the same time. There's no real big favourite...10 guys could win it, along with a lot of climbers given the right opportunity. It should be a pretty open race."
Last year, the other rider to dominate the limelight was Robbie McEwen, who had also recently conquered the Bay criterium series and the Australian championship. McEwen sprinted to four stage wins, and may have had a chance at the overall if he'd put his mind to it.
"Last year I probably didn't realise how good I was feeling," said McEwen. "I just went out on the attack. I had the jersey on the first stage but I didn't treat it as though I was leading the race. I got in a good break early and we got chased down and the winning breakaway went. That set up the classification for the whole tour. And who knows, I might have been ridden out of the wheel anyway on the second last day, if I was trying to be up there."
"I'll go in with the same plan," he added. "I'll try and be in the breaks if I can. Take it day by day for the classification if I'm up there, but my real aim is to win a stage. It worked out well last year. If I can get one I'll be happy."
Despite having a fantastic season in 2002, with 19 wins, McEwen has got to start from scratch again in 2003. He rates the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under highly for that reason. "I find every race is important, especially the first ones to get a win on board. For sprinters the number of wins is important. If you're going well throughout the year it's generally part of the teamwork. But it's often up to the sprinters to get the first one or two wins for the team in order to get the form rolling. Also being an Australian racing in Australia's biggest race it's a great opportunity to have a big win at home. A win's always good."
For the overall win, McEwen thinks that an Australian will do it again this year. "I think there's a pretty good chance - there are a lot of Australian guys in good form, even though there are a limited number in the field. Having said that, it's a good time of year for them."
That's not to discount the chances of ONCE's Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, who last year finished 5th in the Tour de France, having held the yellow jersey for the first half. The Basque time trial specialist is a formidable climber when in form, although he knows that he won't be at his peak this year.
"The reason why we come down here is to take advantage of the great weather," said Gonzalez de Galdeano. "Where I'm from in Bari it's very cold. It's not possible to carry out the training that we have to do at this time of year. Here we can take advantage of the optimum training conditions."
"It's very clear that the year's big objectives are far away - the Tour de France. It's also quite obvious that my form is going to be the best at the Tour de France. It's not the same as the good riders in Australia at the moment."
It's the second time that the ONCE team has been out to Australia. This year, they are accompanied by head honcho Manolo Saiz. "It's clear that wherever Manolo goes he wants to win," said Gonzalez. "Rodriguez, Florencio and Vicioso are probably the strongest guys [to which Neil Stephens adds: Allan Davis is in that group.]. We've come out with a really strong team and we're going out quite clearly at one hundred percent. We're not here for a holiday."
Finally, there's no doubt that Italian sprinter Fabio Sacchi likes coming back to Adelaide for the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under each year. "I like the people, the weather's fantastic, especially the difference in the weather compared to Europe," he said. "I have a big rapport with the Australian public and so I can assure you that it won't be the last time that I'm here."
Sacchi won a stage of the race in 2001, and has also previously held the leader's yellow jersey. Although McEwen crushed his chances of a stage win last year, Sacchi is hopeful that he can improve on that. "I feel very good coming into the race," he said. "I'm feeling a lot better than in other years. I'm really looking forward to it and getting in and performing well."
"I wasn't really mentally right last year. Last year I had a lot of very strong opponents, O'Grady, McEwen etc. I think that not only myself but my teammates are stronger than last year. I'm going to go out and give it my best."