Stuart O’Grady (Leopard-Trek) is steaming mad that he and nine others who crossed the finish line Sunday in Paris-Roubaix after suffering through what he described as “true hell” were disqualified for finishing beyond the time limit.
The 2007 Roubaix champion said he believes it’s wrong to eliminate riders who suffer through a race as demanding and challenging as Paris-Roubaix and said he plans to press for changes in race rules that impose a strict time limit in what’s arguably cycling’s most difficult one-day race.
“I think it’s a bit of bullshit, really. It’s completely ridiculous that they eliminate guys,” O’Grady told VeloNews on Thursday. “I feel like writing a letter to the UCI. I wonder how many of them could finish the race. That rule should be changed. You still finish the race. You go through hell and back to finish Roubaix. You do it out of pride and out of respect for the race and the fans. They should give the guys a bit of credit for finishing. It would be a lot easier to step out of the pedals.”
O’Grady admitted he was not at his best on Sunday, but said he gave “100 percent” to help Leopard-Trek captain Fabian Cancellara get in position to attack after coming through the Arenberg forest.
The Aussie later punctured and lost contact with the lead group as the pack bounced over the final decisive pavé sectors in the closing 50km. Rather than throw in the towel after his job was done, O’Grady rode on pride to finish the race alongside compatriot and ex-teammate Luke Roberts (Saxo Bank-Sungard).
“I was really close to abandoning, but then Luke Roberts caught me. We were two guys from Adelaide riding along. Most of the spectators were gone, the team cars were gone. There was no support, no food, no water, but we were determined to make it to the velodrome,” O’Grady explained. “That was the longest 50km of my life. That’s why they call it the ‘Hell of the North.’ Those last kilometers were pure hell. It’s a mystical race and by getting slapped in the face only makes you want to come back and do better.”
O’Grady and Roberts rode together into the velodrome in 6 hours, 42 minutes, 40 seconds, well beyond the time limit. When the official results were later printed, HD – hors délai – was posted next to the 10 riders who missed the time cut.
Roubaix rules call for riders to be eliminated if they finish beyond 5 percent of the winner’s time, unless there are what judges rule to be “extraordinary circumstances.”
No exceptions were made in Sunday’s hot and dusty conditions. Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervélo) crossed the line in 6:07:28. Based on the calculation, the official time cut was roughly at 6 hours, 26 minutes.
Riders such as Gatis Smukulis (HTC-Highroad), who finished in 6:28:28, and Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Matt Brammeier (HTC-Highroad), who both crossed the line in 6:29:40, barely missed the time cut.
O’Grady and Roberts, however, were more than 16 minutes beyond the cut while last-place finisher, Vitaliy Kondrut (Lampre), who crossed the line at 6:58:44, was more than a half hour slower than Van Summeren’s time.
O’Grady says it doesn’t matter what time a rider finishes Roubaix: if they reach the velodrome, they deserve to have an official result on their palmarès.
“It’s a different sense of achievement to finish the ‘Hell of the North,’” O’Grady said. “As much as I was hating it at the time, I was very proud to make it to the velodrome on Sunday. For any rider who tries to ride Roubaix, just to finish is something that’s special. And, geez, just to take it away like that because of some time cut, that doesn’t seem fair. It’s not for any UCI points, we’re not racing the next day in a stage race. I think riders who finish deserve to have an official result.”
Editor’s note: This is an extract from a full interview with Stuart O’Grady that will run Friday on VeloNews.com.