Stuart O'Grady fights cycle of pain on Tour
By Ron Reed
STUART O'Grady has discovered neither his mind nor his body is particularly ready for his comeback to competitive cycling in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour this week, but the demons have to be conquered.
And so he is putting himself through mental and physical torture.
The 34-year-old veteran, widely regarded as Australia's greatest all-round bike rider, is racing for the first time since his horror fall during the Tour de France in July.
He broke eight ribs, a collarbone, three vertebrae and the AC joint in his shoulder, punctured a lung, sustained a blood clot to the brain and spent a month in hospital.
Needless to say, nobody endures an ordeal like that and then simply gets back on the horse, so to speak, as if nothing had happened.
So when the time came to meet the challenge of the first mountain on Monday, which, of course, involves not just climbing it but descending it at high speed, his reaction was entirely understandable.
"I was pretty s--t scared out there today," he told guests and riders at a dinner at the Mitchelton Winery that night.
"Going down the descent . . . what if you go off the road or hit a pole? You can't let that stuff enter your mind, otherwise you might as well hang up your boots. If it was anything to do with my brain, I wouldn't be sitting here. Bones will heal, so it's just a matter of getting out there and doing it."
At the time, O'Grady didn't know how right he was. One young rider, American Teddy King, 24, did lose it going down Mt Alexander, just outside Bendigo, and crashed into the bush, ending up in hospital and out of the race.
King escaped with bruises, cuts and a knee problem, but his helmet was such a mess that medical staff were amazed that he wasn't seriously hurt, or worse.
It was yet more evidence that road racing is one of the toughest sports there is, not that O'Grady needs any reminding of that.
He still feels the pain in his shoulder and regards every little step he takes as an accomplishment.