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An interview with Robbie McEwen, April 6, 2008
Nothing but quality for McEwen
Some might start minimising the abilities of Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen as the 35 year-old is still without a victory in 2008, after four months of competition. In doing so one wouldn't be considering the lack of bunch sprints in the run-up races towards the Spring Classics season so far, nor the fact that his real goals are still to come. Still it is odd and, on the eve of the Spring Classics, Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé talked with McEwen in Gent about his season so far and his goals for the 2008.
"It was a difficult start of the season as I was ill, and afterwards I crashed in the Algarve [Portugal]. It was only from the Tirreno-Adriatico on that things started rolling again," commented McEwen early in April.
The Milano-Sanremo, which is the traditional opening Classic of the season, proved to be too hard for the Australian. In previous editions he had tried desperately to claim the flowers on the Via Roma, trying different tactics like avoiding the bunch sprint in the descent. "During Milano-Sanremo I fell short. I had a bad moment at a bad time;I got dropped on the new climb, Le Mànie, and had to chase for 25 kilometres; on the Poggio I couldn't follow.
"The past few years I always won my stage [first win - ed.] in the Tour Down Under. Back in 1999 I had to wait until June before my first victory, but then I won a stage in the Tour de France, which made up for that. It doesn't make me annoyed or nervous. It would be different if I would be riding well without capturing a win, but now I know why I haven't won just yet. I do what I have to do. I've caught a cold, but that shouldn't keep me away from a good performance in the upcoming races," McEwen noted.
When asked where he picked up the cold the Australian smiled. "My children caught a cold, and thus daddy couldn't stay behind," McEwen laughed.
He continued to explain the reasons behind the lack of successes. "It's not the easiest time of the season, and you don't see a lot of bunch sprints. I could've opted to be in form a little earlier, because it's easier to keep on the top form than to reach it. That crash in Portugal was far from ideal, but I wouldn't have been with the first 12 over the top of the Poggio anyway; Milano-Sanremo was too tough for me."
Besides the fact that McEwen wasn't in top form so far, the experienced sprinter also wanted to point out that he isn't sad about the lack of victories. "I've reached a point in my career where I prefer quality above quantity. I would like to exchange a bunch of small victories for one big victory. I can't turn myself around into a different rider; I'm a sprinter pur sang.
"I'm looking forward to the summer. The months of May, June and July are my months, and September a little as well," he continued. McEwen must've thought about his three consecutive victories in Paris-Brussel. "I've got a nice palmarès, but... last year, I changed my focus to the big races." McEwen then summed up his list of victories in – mainly – ProTour races. "I'm not a man of the Spring Classics like Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but there some other races that suit me. Semi-Classics like the Scheldeprijs Schoten, Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen are all within my reach, although it depends on how the race unfolds. But whenever you have the chance to win one of those, you have to go for it."
As a true Australian, McEwen is used to the sun and riding around in cold and rainy weather conditions in France and Belgium probably isn't what he's longing for. Nevertheless, those weather conditions are related to the races in Northern Europe. "The motivation stays the same because everybody wants a victory in one of those races [Spring Classics - ed.]. It doesn't really matter in which weather conditions you win a race.
"On the list of winners there's no asterisk next to a winner's name which says 'in the rain,'" McEwen laughed and noticed, "this year we've been racing a lot in the rain."
With the Ronde van Vlaanderen coming up, the eyes of the cycling world will be pointed on the region where McEwen resides during the season. Nonetheless, he will not be racing the Monument as he is considered to have no chance on the series of short and cobbled hills. It isn't something McEwen cares about too much. "I'll be watching the Ronde van Vlaanderen at home on TV with coffee and cake. The course comes close to my place, at about one kilometre, but I will not go out to see it," the 'Kangaroo from Evergem,' as he is sometimes called in Flanders, gladly said. Clearly, McEwen prefers the calmness from his living room over the craziness of the crowds along the course.
After the Spring Classics in April, McEwen will be getting ready for the Grand Tours, where he has been winning ever since 1999. With the biggest candidate for the overall victory in the Tour de France in the team – Cadel Evans – it might become hard to feature in the line-up from team manager Marc Sergeant. "My program will be the same as usual, with the Giro [d'Italia], Tour de Suisse and then the Tour de France. I don't feel tired because I haven't raced a lot this season." When asked whether McEwen was guaranteed a spot in the selection for the Tour de France, McEwen reacted confidently. "I expect to start in the Tour de France."
Being 35 years old it is inevitable that questions about a possible retirement are asked more often than before. McEwen explained that he wants to continue for at least one more year.
"I'll know where my future lies in July or August. I want to ride one more year. Where? That's a mystery," McEwen smiled. I've got someone who takes care of the business. Right now I'm a passive investor. But don't write me off just yet," McEwen laughed. "Everybody asks me when and where I'll retire, and if I'll retire and so on. I still have the same explosion in my legs, although I can't really measure it. Maybe I'll go for a two-year contract. I'm still looking young," he said, without asking our opinion on this delicate matter.
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Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net