O'Grady made the transition to road cycling in 1995 after joining GAN, the team that later became Crédit Agricole, and showed great promise right from the start with three victories; he also continued to perform well on the track, riding with the winning Pursuit team and coming third in the Individual Pursuit at the World Championships. He concentrated on the Olympics in 1996, win bronze on the Team Pursuit and Points race, then won the Cottesloe and Subiaco criteriums and Stages 1, 6 and 8 at the Herald Sun Tour before going to the Tour de France in 1997 - where he finished in eight place on Stage 4 and second on Stage 5, completing the race in 109th place overall. The following year, he wore the yellow jersey in Stages 4, 5 and 6 and won Stage 14 before coming second behind Erik Zabel in the overall Points competition: Australia began to dream that, 84 years after Don Kirkham and Ivor Munro had been the first Australians to compete in the world's greatest race, their first winner had emerged - and then became sure that O'Grady was to be that man when he finished in the top ten on eleven stages in 1999, once again coming second on Points.
It would never happen, of course: he knew every bit as well as Mark Cavendish does today that he'd never win a Tour and, also like Cav, probably became heartily sick of explaining to new fans he attracted to the sport why this was. O'Grady was 1.73m tall and 73kg; giving him, like most sprinters, the wrong sort of body shape to be able to compete with the wiry climbers in the mountains: those eleven top ten finishes in 1999 were superb, but 135th, 109th, 104th and 130th in the mountains left him in 94th place in the overall General Classification.
O'Grady picked up good results in 2000, including second place at the Tour Down Under and three top ten finishes at the Tour de France, but his only victory was Stage 3 at the GP du Midi-Libre - when he left the Tour after Stage 6 and finished the Road Race at the Olympics in 77th place, it was evident that something was wrong: that he won the Tour Down Under, twice stood on the podium at Paris-Nice, finished another eleven Tour stages in the top ten and was again second in the Points competition in 2001 is remarkable because in April 2002 he underwent surgery on a narrowed pelvic iliac artery which, doctors had discovered, was limiting the power output of one leg. His recovery was swift and complete; he went to the Tour that year and finished seven stages in the top ten, including third place on Stage 10 and was third overall on Points. Later in the year, he won the Road Race at the Commonwealth Games.
2003 got off to a superb start with victory at the National Championships and eighteen podium placings before the Tour got under way, but in France he found himself unable to take on several very strong sprinters including fellow Australians Baden Cooke (who won the green jersey) and Robbie McEwen, finishing the Points competition in seventh place. He switched teams to Cofidis in 2004 and won Stage 9 at the Tour, but was beaten by McEwen, Thor Hushovd and Zabel in the Points competition. In 2005 he came second in the Points competition, then he joined CSC the following year.
|O'Grady in 2008
O'Grady raced with LeopardTrek in 2011, but announced in August that he would be joining the new Australian ProTour GreenEDGE team. With them, raced his sixteenth Tour de France in 2012 and then his seventeenth in 2013 - tying with George Hincapie for most participations (Hincapie, however, confessed in 2012 to doping and thus had his results from three Tours disqualified; Jens Voigt also rode seventeen but did not finish three). He announced his retirement after the race. O'Grady created and still financially supports a youth team, CSC O'Grady, and is involved with Champions for Peace - an organisation of athletes that attempts to use the international co-operation found in sport to demonstrate that there are alternatives to conflict.
O'Grady was and remains a vocal opponent of doping, yet in 2013 he was listed among riders believed to have doped with EPO during the 1998 Tour, in which he had come second in the Points Competition and worn the maillot jaune for three stages (in 1998, a test for EPO had not been developed; preserved samples were being tested now that one was - hence the long delay). Within 24 hours, O'Grady issued a press statement in which he confessed his guilt, but said that the arrests at the Tour that year as part of the notorious Festina Affair had scared him so much that he had never doped again.
Arnie Baker, born in Montreal on this day in 1953, as a highly successful cycling coach - in that capacity, he has trained riders in preparation for around 140 National Championships, 40 record attempts and several Olympics. He was also a successful rider himself, setting eight US records in time trials.
Baker's reputation as a miracle worker looked to be in jeopardy when he was implicated in the Floyd Landis doping case. At the 2006 Tour de France, Landis cracked badly in Stage 16 and lost eight minutes, looking as though he was ready to abandon by the time the race reached the summit of the Alpe d'Huez at the end of the stage; yet the very next day set a blistering pace on Galibier that nobody could match. Both the A and B samples he provided at the end of Stage 17 tested positive for synthetic testosterone and abnormally high levels of epitestosterone, a natural steroid without performance-enhancing effects that can be used in an attempt to mask suspiciously-high testosterone levels. Landis was, eventually, stripped of his 2006 victory and banned from competition for two years.
On the 14th of April 2009, the French L'Express newspaper published a report claiming that information hacked from a French laboratory's network had been emailed from a computer registered to Baker to a Canadian doping lab, and he and Landis were "invited" to answer questions in a French court. Controversially in view of the lack of evidence it was able to find, the court gave Baker a one-year suspended sentence. Baker continues to state that the case against him had deep flaws and insists that he had no part in doping and has never knowingly received or sent on illegally-obtained documents.
|Eros Poli, one history's most likable professional cyclists
Eros Poli, born in Isola della Scala on this day in 1963, said that he only took up cycling because of the ban on using private cars for any purpose other than getting to work during the oil crisis of 1973 - he was given a choice, a bike or roller skates, and chose the bike. A talented sprinter in his own right, Poli became known as Mario Cipollini's lead-out man and was extremely successful in this role, not least of all because at 1.97m tall he was one of the very few riders big enough for the 1.89m Cipollini to be able to draft behind.
Like Cipollini and most large, heavy riders, Poli hated mountain stages - yet he attempted one of the most remarkable attacks ever seen in the Tour de France on Mont Ventoux in 1994. Having calculated that if he built up enough momentum on the flat approach his speed would carry him through and he'd reach the summit with a comfortable lead, he hit the infamous mountain at full speed and pedaled hard to the top. It worked: he was first to the summit, though Ventoux proved much harder than he'd anticipated (just as it invariably does) and his 20' lead dropped to 3'39". His efforts won him the Combativity award for the stage.
Cipollini was frequently accused of being arrogant during his career; yet while he shared Cipo's taste for flamboyant clothes and had the "Italian Stallion" looks that are considered sufficiently appealing by a sufficient number of people for him to have emulated Cipo's playboy lifestyle had he have chosen to do so, Poli was a far more humble and, as a result, likable character: despite many successes during his amateur career, he claimed he didn't believe until he was 28 that he could be a professional rider, and when asked during an interview which words he would like carved on his gravestone, he replied: "Here lies Eros Poli - famous for being tall and coming last in the Giro d'Italia." It was he who, in 1997, went to Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc to announce that the riders had decided not to race for the first 45km of Stage 10 so that they could gather together and pay their respects at the memorial to Fabio Casartelli, who had been killed on the Tour two years earlier.
When asked by Cycling News about that remarkable stage win on Ventoux, Poli's answer was typical for him. Having explained that, for him, working for Cipollini was an honour, he talked briefly about himself before changing the subject to the success of a team mate: "Yes, that was the realisation of a dream. It was me, in the lead, all alone, the guy who people were applauding, like an actor on the stage. I was centre-stage, face to face with the public. Fantastic. That's why when I crossed the finish line I made a gesture of thanks. Me, the insignificant bike rider, the team rider of whom there are a hundred in the peloton. I had the chance to win a mythical stage with the Ventoux in the programme. And it's droll, because I felt the same sensation when Cedric [Vasseur] won his stage at La Chatre last week When I learnt that he'd won I was tearful with emotion, on the bike..."
Gabriele Bosisio, born in Lecco, Italy on this day in 1980, was a relatively unknown rider who enjoyed little success until he won Stage 7 at the Giro d'Italia in 2008, then finished fifth overall at the Tour of Britain later the same year. The next year, he was second at the National Time Trial Championship which took place in late June; then on the 6th of October news broke that a sample he provided on the 2nd of September had proven positive for EPO, an out-of-competition test carried out after suspicious blood values were detected on his biological passport. He was provisionally suspended by his LPR Brakes team, then banned from competition for two years on the 28th of April 2008 - as the ban was backdated to the announcement of the positive test, it expired on the 5th of October 2011 and he made his return with Utensilnord-Named - a team formed by his old managers after LPR Brakes dissolved in 2009 - in 2012.
Other cyclists born on this day: Erwin Thijs (Belgium, 1970); Yumiko Suzuki (Japan, 1960); Sebastian Kartfjord (Norway, 1987); Sören Lausberg (East Germany, 1969); Trần Văn Nen (South Vietnam, 1927); Gottlieb Amstein (Switzerland, 1906, died 1975); Roland Surrugue (France, 1938, died 1997); Francesco Bellotti (Italy, 1979).