2007 : Stuart O’Grady (II/V)
In the end, it’s not always the strongest who wins. Certainly not in cycling, and most definitely not in Paris-Roubaix. On the roads of the Hell of the North, the „strongest“ can just as easily win in the legendary velodrome as get bogged down in the Trouée d’Arenberg. Year after year, the cobblestone crushers crash in the Mons-en-Pévèle sector or collapse in the Carrefour de l’Arbre – and one cannot underestimate the traps of the asphalt either. On these unique roads, an aspirant for glory needs to be strong, but also brave and lucky. Paris-Roubaix smiles on the bold, even those who have been out there the longest. In a race where chaos is always the order of the day, early attackers create unsuspected openings. Conquerors of the Hell of the North, they tell us about their heavenly day on the cobbles.

O’Grady: “It was like having an out-of-body experience“
Stuart O’Grady knew everything about how to power victory in a velodrome when he lined up at the start of Paris-Roubaix 2007, his “finest road result”. His last victory before he tamed the French Monument actually came in the Athens Olympic Velodrome, during the 2004 Games, where he won the Madison. In his 33rd Spring, the Australian veteran also had a wealth of experience to share in the Classics and he approached with high confidence his 9th participation in the Hell of the North, a week after finishing 10th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
These stripes didn’t make O’Grady a favourite to raise the famous winner’s cobble in the Vélodrome of Roubaix. In these years, all eyes turned to Fabian Cancellara – especially O’Grady’s, who was a teammate of the Swiss icon – and Tom Boonen, the two of them claiming seven victories in the nine editions raced between 2005 and 2013. It appeared the only way to escape their dominance was to anticipate, as O’Grady showed and Johan Vansummeren confirmed, in 2011.
On his special day, „Stuey“ the Aussie was greeted by exceptionally high temperatures in the North of France. He made the early breakaway to launch a trailblazing conquest. A puncture and a crash got in his way, the bigger guns got back to him… But O’Grady surged again on the Carrefour de l’Arbre. „Today, I was going to win or die trying“, he said as he became the first rider from Down Under to conquer Roubaix and its iconic Vélodrome.

Km 0. Let them go : “Everybody goes full gas in the first 15 kilometres”
“Fabian [Cancellara] was the protected rider, especially as the defending champion. I was more of a plan B, along with Lars Michaelsen and Matti Breschel. My objective was to get in the breakaway with a couple of teammates, to be ahead of the race, be ready to help Fabian deep in the finale. Getting in the break is probably one of the most difficult things to achieve. Every directeur sportif tells his riders he wants one or two of them in the breakaway. It’s very fast, it’s very hard. You need a lot of experience. Everybody goes full gas in the first 15 kilometres, which isn’t the best way to go about it. It’s more about picking your opportunities from that 16, 17km mark, when the road starts taking a few little small climbs, which makes a good launchpad to create a breakaway.”

Km 19. Feel the move : “Come on, it’s a good opportunity!”
“When the breakaway initially went, it had Luke Roberts and Matti Breschel in it. I thought it was a good group but I also thought I really need to be in it as well. I used my experience to jump across at a favourable moment and we were three riders. It was a real defining moment. It was very important for us to have multiple riders in the breakaway. Obviously, we didn’t realise it would be 30 riders, which kind of worked in our favour. I remember yelling at the riders: ‘Come on, it’s a good opportunity, the further we get ahead the better’. And I managed to get the breakaway very.

Km 163. Survive Arenberg : “I thought my race was finished”
“We were hoping to get to Arenberg and in the end, the breakaway went much further… But it didn’t work out like that for me. I was always entering the sectors first or second wheel, to chose my line, try to avoid stupid crashes or incidents. I was feeling really good. Everything was coming to plan. But I punctured in Arenberg. I was devastated, I thought my race was finished. But that’s where my experience from the previous Paris-Roubaix helped me. The younger Stuart would have tried to time trial back to that group and probably explode a few sections later. The more experienced Stuart went: ‘You know what, let’s just get to the end of the section, let’s get a musette…’ It was a very hot and dusty day, which made it really difficult to eat and drink. That puncture was probably a blessing in disguise.”

Km 215. Get Cancellara’s approval : “If you can, just go”
“Once I got caught, I spoke with Fabian. We shared room the night before and we were very close friends. I was told to attack on the next section… And I crashed on a corner, which was unusual. I was usually pretty good on the cobbles but I think with the pressure, having to attack for Fabian, I had a little lapse in concentration and I crashed. I was really mad at myself. I thought I had let Fabian down. With that anger, I rode back to the peloton. And that’s when Fabian said: ‘‘I’m not on a good day. You obviously are. If you can, just go.’”

Km 234. Go go go : “What have I done?”
“I followed Steffen Wesemann and Roger Hammond, who had just attacked. They rode me to the front of the race. At that moment, something inside my head just said: ‘Go’. I didn’t know how many kilometres were left to go, I didn’t know anything… I just saw the moment that everyone was really tired and they all kind of sat up. And at that moment, my head just said ‘attack, just go’. I saw an opportunity and then I saw the sign that said 25 kilometres to go… Holy shit, what have I done? But I felt really good on the Carrefour. My goal was to get a one-minute advantage. Then, the riders behind would start looking at each other and racing for the places of second and third.”

Km 259.5. Feel the legend : “Is this really happening?”
“It was like having an out-of-body experience. You’re racing, you’re off the front in Paris-Roubaix, and you’re kind of asking: ‘Is this really happening?’ Your legs are on the verge of cramping. Your arms are absolutely wrecked. Your neck, everything is hurting. But I guess that desire, that will to win, is just screaming at you: ‘Just keep going there, this is your day!’ It doesn’t happen very often in your career, at least it didn’t happen very often in my career! So I pushed as hard as I could push and it worked. The winner’s cobble is the only trophy I have on display at my home, in Australia. It’s in the entrance and I still touch it most days. It brings back a lot of incredible memories.”

Stuart O’Grady :
• Born on 6 August 1973 in Adelaide (Australia)
• Director of the Santos Tour Down Under

17 participations in the Tour de France :
• 2 stage wins (1998, 2004) / 9 Yellow jerseys (1998, 2001)
14 participations in Paris-Roubaix :
• Winner in 2007 / 5th in 2008
• Track Olympic Champion in 2004
• 3rd of Milano-Sanremo 2004
• 3rd of the Ronde van Vlaanderen 2003
• 3rd of Paris-Tours 2003 and 2006