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Surfers Paradise Grand Prix - NE
Queensland, Australia, December 11, 2005
"Flashbacks to the Tour"
McEwen wins as green jersey protagonists fight it out on Surfers Paradise streets
By John Flynn in Surfers Paradise
As Australian cycling promoters dreams go, it doesn't get much better than this!
Two of the world's leading sprinters, the headline acts of Queensland's Grand Prix Criterium Series, fighting it out in a sprint finish on the esplanade at Surfers Paradise Beach. And for Davitamon Lotto's Robbie McEwen, the local favourite, it ended with the perfect result; victory over one of his biggest rivals Baden Cooke in front of a hometown audience.
"Coming home it was giving me flashbacks to the Tour," McEwen told Cyclingnews seconds after crossing the line victorious.
"All the sprints at the finish and the intermediate sprints I've done against Baden [Cooke] in the Tour, it was like shoulder to shoulder and dead level all the way up to the line; there was nothing in it at the finish."
For the thousands of spectators who lined the streets of Surfers Paradise to witness the event, the site of two Tour de France green jersey winners launching into a sprint was something to savour. And as always, when Cooke and McEwen clash head to head, the result was a sprint of the highest class.
"That's how I'm used to sprinting against Baden, he's a really tough competitor," McEwen said of his TdF green jersey rival. It's great, I haven't been able to win one of these crits for the last couple of years so today was a bit of a change of fortune. It's nice to win in front of a home crowd in Surfers."
Although never pleased at finishing behind McEwen, the second placed result was a positive outcome for FdJeux sprinter Cooke, who has started his preparation for next year's European spring classics campaign early.
"I went from the corner it was probably a bit too far," Cooke said post-race of his sprint effort. "Robbie knew the finish a bit better and he just got over me."
How it unfolded
A quality field of sixty cyclists lined up for the one hour plus three laps criterium, to be fought out on a short, yet extremely technical street circuit in the heart of the Surfers Paradise tourist precinct. Although Liberty Seguros sprinter Allan Davis was a last minute withdrawal due to the pending birth of his second child, the field still contained the bulk of Australia's top European based pro's.
Cooke and McEwen were joined by Brad McGee, Henk Vogels, Matt Wilson and Simon Gerrans just to name a few. Add to that list a national criterium champion in David McPartland, an Olympic track cycling gold medallist in Scott McGrory, and the winner of race one of the Grand Prix Series, world track pursuit champion Ashley Hutchinson.
But it was the locals once again who had come to play in Surfers Paradise. Caravello signing Tony Mann kept the pace high early, before FdJeux's Bradley McGee made the first serious move of the race at the eighteen minute mark, soon to be joined by Jaaron Poad.
"When you see Brad McGee go down the road, he was probably one of the best guys to be with, he's a superstar," Poad recalled of his decision to join McGee's sudden move.
But there was an ulterior motive for the ex-pat Kiwi, who could be excused for feeling at home on the Gold Coast, a place many of his countrymen refer to as the 'Capital of The West Island' [Australian-New Zealand humour].
"The idea was to get away from Hutcho today, he was leading the series and I managed to do that," Poad said.
While a break so early in the race was always unlikely to succeed, the big efforts from Poad and McGee ensured only the serious players would remain in contention. Among them were McEwen and Cooke, who both watched the developments cautiously.
"I gambled on that one not trying to go with it because I still had two team-mates I was using to control the race in Henk Vogels and Nick Sanderson," McEwen later revealed of his race tactics.
"I think it turned out good that we sort of lulled the rest of the field into a sense of security. Baden's gone across and then I've tried to follow the first time but didn't make it so I went again and I got across on the second attempt."
Cooke's decision to bridge the gap in the first instance was based on a hunch which paid off. "I saw Brad [McGee] out there and I knew Brad's not in super condition so I figured the best thing to do, I felt alright, so I'd go across," said Cooke. "I marked Jason Phillips when he went across and just as I thought, Brad blew up straight away."
Thirty minutes into the race, a neat breakaway group of six riders had formed, and with the experienced team-mates of Cooke and McEwen slowing the pace on the front of the peloton the gap started to grow. In the mix up front were McEwen and Cooke, in-form locals Poad and Mann, Jason Phillips and A.I.S. talent Miles Ohlman.
"We had a strong group," recalled McEwen. "Jaaron Poad was absolutely driving and everyone was working well together and doing their turns. It was just a matter of trying to keep it together, Baden and I both wanted to keep it together and back our own sprints."
Ohlman, on the other hand, was in the sort of company most young cyclists dream about. The A.I.S rec
ruit finding it tough trying to match two of the world's top sprinters. "I didn't quite think I'd be able to roll the likes of Robbie and Baden Cooke," Ohlman admitted at race end. I had a bit of a dig but just kind of had nothing in the legs."
Tony Mann also paid the price for his pace work earlier in the race. Realising he couldn't match it with McEwen and Cooke, the in-form Sunshine Coast cyclist flicked the switch with three laps to go but the tank was empty. "I was up there till the end," Mann lamented. "Gave it a shot with three laps to go and just didn't have it."
With Mann out of contention, Jason Phillips was the next to have a crack at pursuiting himself to victory and his move at the sixty minute mark almost reaped rewards. McEwen chose not to chase his regular Gold Coast training partner, leaving Cooke, Poad and Ohlman to do the catching.
"Well I really did (think the move would succeed), I knew that I couldn't beat Robbie or Cookie in the finish," the Germany-based Phillips told Cyclingnews. "I though all or nothing, have a go, if I come through it's all the glory."
When Phillips was reeled in with one lap remaining it set the scene for what promoters of the Grand Prix series had long been hoping for. A showdown between Cooke and McEwen in a frantic dash to the line.
"It's not the first time I've seen Robbie come up beside me and we're pulling it out all the way to the line," Cooke summed up of his narrow loss in a barely street legal drag race along the Surfers Paradise esplanade.
"A head popper," was McEwen's assessment as he grabbed his son Ewan and headed to the world famous beach for a swim.
A series win for Poad
While the spoils in race two of the Grand Prix Criterium Series were shared between McEwen and Cooke, the third placed finish today for Jaaron Poad gave the flying Kiwi the overall series win. The result, a career highlight for the Brisbane based rider, who is yet to cut a living from professional cycling.
Like many of his brothers from across the ditch, [New Zealand slang for Pacific Ocean], Poad loves the Queensland lifestyle so much he doesn't want to go back.
"I don't know I really enjoy living in Brisbane and Queensland, it's a great place it's hard to leave," Poad said of his immediate plans. "If the right opportunity comes along I'll definitely take it."
Girl with the golden slippers keeps 'em honest
Robbie McEwen wasn't the only local Gold Coaster to enjoy rousing cheers at the Surfers Paradise Cycling Grand Prix. Olympic women's road race champion Sara Carrigan (unmistakable in her gold shoes) turned up for the second week in succession to race against the men in the B grade support event and was among the strongest cyclists in the race.
In the midst of a training camp in Northern New South Wales with the Queensland Academy of Sport, Carrigan's form was stronger than expected at this stage of her preparation for the Australian open road championships and the Commonwealth Games.
"Yeah, it was pretty hot out there, good race though," Carrigan told Cyclingnews. The Olympic champion was also impressed with the efforts of her QAS team-mate, under 19 Hayden Josefski, who almost lapped the field today in the B grade support event. Josefski also won the same race last week at Brisbane's Southbank.
"I had a few attacks and the Q.A.S. rider Hayden [Josefski] was awesome today; he deserved to win, he did pretty much half the race by himself," Carrigan said.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by John Flynn/Cyclingnews.com
Images by Michael Marston/www.epixelimages.com.au
1 Robbie McEwen (Davitamon Lotto) 2 Baden Cooke (Francaise des Jeux) 3 Jaaron Poad (Yellow Jersey Bike Shop) 4 Jason Phillips (VC Frankfurt) 5 Miles Ohlman (A.I.S.) 6 Tony Mann (Spin City Cycles) 7 David Kupka 8 Brad McGee (Francaise de Jeux) 9 Grant Irwin 10 David McPartland (Jayco - VIS)