CHATEAUROUX, France (AFP) — Australian Stuart O’Grady has admitted the tough first week of the Tour de France has left him feeling battered and bounced around like a character from a computer game.
“When I woke this morning it was the first time on the race I felt like I’d been clipped by a Tonka truck,” O’Grady told AFP before the start of the race’s seventh stage to Chateauroux.
Having avoided most of the crashes that have made an already chaotic first week of racing even more challenging, O’Grady has been much in demand by his Leopard team as they continue to protect leader Andy Schleck.
Now the Australian, competing in his 15th Tour de France, is steeling himself for chapter two in the battle to move Schleck one step higher than his two consecutive runner-up places on the race.
The peloton starts the first of three days in the hilly Massif Central region on Saturday, where riders like O’Grady — who must spend the day protecting team leaders — could be called to dig deep.
After a week spent keeping Schleck out of the wind and riding hard at the front of the peloton, O’Grady admits the mental toll has been considerable.
“It’s been hard on the legs but it’s been more stressful than anything else,” he added.
“All the crashes in the first stage gave everybody a wake-up call. We’ve had to keep our GC guys up front, but the problem is there isn’t room on those narrow roads for 180 guys.”
The objective of organizers in the first week was to mix up the stages so fans would not be bored watching a week of long breakaways followed by bunch sprints.
However the carnage witnessed in the opening stages prompted many of the contenders’ teams to take command at the front of the chasing peloton for fear of crashing and losing time.
O’Grady agrees its nice to shake up the race, but added: “I know ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) want to keep the first week exciting, but sometimes you feel like you’re stuck inside a computer game.”
He believes the weekend’s stages could also play an early role in the impending yellow jersey battle.
“The first mountain stages are going to be critical — in the Massif Central and the Pyrenees,” added O’Grady.
“Going from flatter stages in the cold and rain to the climbs is going to be tough. I wouldn’t like to be a GC guy heading into the Massif Central after the stages we’ve just had.”