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Surfers Paradise Criterium - NE
Surfers Paradise, Australia, December 14, 2003
Crit win augers well for McEwen's early season training
By Karen Forman, in Surfers Paradise
Queenslander Robbie McEwen launched his 2004 season with a bang, winning Sunday's Surfers Paradise Criterium before an appreciative home crowd at the end of what was only his first week of serious training after his end of season break.
The Lotto Domo rider, best known for his 2002 Tour de France green jersey and stage win, beat Bundaberg's Allan Davis (ONCE) and fellow Queenslander David Betts (Mapei) in a three-way sprint to the line after the trio staged an early breakaway.
Despite a concerted effort to reel them in by a chasing bunch led by FDJdeux.com riders Brad McGee, Baden Cooke and Matt Wilson and Cofidis rider Matt White, the leaders maintained a gap of up to 32 seconds on the tight and technical 800-metre course around a beach-front block in the heart of the Gold Coast tourist capital.
The event was the third and final in the Queensland Grand Prix Cycling Series and pitted previous week's surprise winner at Brisbane's Southbank, local Mark Roland, against McEwen (who won the Gold Coast race last year), the FdJeux.com boys, White, Davis, German world champion Christian Lademann (MGZT), Betts, 52 year old former world track champion Danny Clarke and a strong line-up of local amateurs.
Intense heat - the temperature had hit 33 degrees by 9am - threatened to overwhelm the A-graders as it had the women and B-grade men earlier in the day.However the overcast beginnings of an impressive electrical storm meant the 50-strong field had one less thing to worry about.
Rather, it was Cyclone McEwen-Davis-Betts, which proved the greater threat. And the incredibly tight circuit which resulted in crashes in both the B-grade men and the A-grade events.
"It was a very tight and technical little circuit," McEwen said on the finish line, hugging his 15-month-old son. When told by organisers there would be a dance exhibition in the finishing straight, he replied: "I'm too tired to dance".
On a more serious note, he said he was happy to have won the event, which had come at the end of his first week back training. "It's fantastic to win a home crit, especially after winning last year and this year I was even more motivated.
"I did 830km this week and after this and an hour or so warm down, it will have been around 900km," he said. "Plus three gym sessions. I had planned for today to be a good solid effort and it was."
He said he was about 80 per cent fit and feeling much better than he had in the third round the previous week. "My heart rate was low; I felt good."
He paid tribute to his fellow breakaway riders, saying that three was the perfect number to control a race on such a short, tight circuit. "I had planned to wait 15 minutes but then Brad McGee went and I went with him. I was there with David Betts and we saw Al coming and decided to wait for him to get on. We waited for him to recover, then we started working together."
Speed took its toll on the field early and by halfway through the hour plus three-lap race just 16 riders remained in the chasing bunch, which was controlled by the FDJeux.com boys. Wilson struggled in the latter stages after telling Cyclingnews earlier he was still recovering from a bout of gastroenteritis. Other key players included Craig Cahill of MGZT, Roland and Adrian Booth.
With a 21 second gap, Miles Olman was working hard on the front of the peloton while McEwen was on the front of the breakaway and looking fresh and strong.
White was on Olman's wheel for a while with Joel Pearson of Warragul, Booth and Roland still working hard to chase down the leaders. The gap was 10 seconds with 15 minutes to go and a crash on the tightest corner brought down seven riders with eight minutes to go.
That was all the impetus the breakaway needed to apply more speed and they widened the gap to 17 seconds. Betts appeared to be suffering but managed to hang in with the leaders, while back in the chasing group, Luke Stockwell (Lifecycle) attacked off the front. Meanwhile, the leaders pumped harder on their pedals and widened the gap to 36 seconds.
The breakaway remained steady as they crossed the start/finish line at the bell, but when they got to the back straight it was on. Riders who had been going for almost an hour as if in a team time trial suddenly became individuals sprinting for a win. Davis led out and McEwen was in third wheel. He swung out in the final straight and managed to cross the line half a bike length ahead of the ONCE rider.
Back in the chasing bunch Bradley Nightingale (Lifecycle) led out but it was Jonathon Cantwell who clinched fourth place behind the three professionals.
Davis, 23, who with seven ONCE teammates will join Liberty-Seguros in Spain next year following the withdrawal of ONCE sponsorship, said it had made a lot of sense to work together at the front for most of the race.
"Once we got away I knew it was pretty much a break and it was just a matter of working together until the finish. We just took each other's turns; I think all three of us knew we had to do that. And then there was the sprint."
He's now looking to win the national road championships in Ballarat next year and is hoping for a start at the Giro, the Tour de France or the Vuelta. "I haven't done a three-week event yet," he said. "Hopefully this year will be the year. But I've got plenty of time."
A crowd McEwen described as the biggest he'd seen at a criterium in Queensland was on hand to cheer the riders on and organisers USM Events were happy with the turnout.
Managing director, Garth Prowd, whose company is also in charge of the Noosa and Mooloolaba Triathlons and the Weetbix Kids Tri Series and has run the Australian club road championships for the past three years, said the aim of the crit series was to convert recreational cyclists into competitive cyclists.
"Sport cycling grows year by year yet road cycling and triathlon numbers are going down," he said. "We want to get them back."
He said the Surfers Paradise Management Association had provided support, aiming to bring people into the business centre and that a short circuit had been deliberately designed to keep the spectators interested.
Images by David Magahy/www.goldcoastphotography.com
Images by David Salton
A Grade Men 1 Robbie McEwen (Lotto Domo) 2 Allan Davis (ONCE) 3 David Betts (Mapei/Australia) 4 Jaaron Poad 5 Christian Lademann (MGZT) 6 Mikkeli Godfree (Carnegie) 7 Jonathon Cantwell 8 Miles Olman 9 Matt White (Cofidis) 10 Mark Roland (Flight Centre) Prime winners David Betts (Mapei/Australia) (2) Allan Davis (ONCE) (1) Robbie McEwen (Lotto Domo) (1) Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com) (1)
2002 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo