In 1997 Robbie became a Tour rider, but as he pointed out the first
time I saw him since his return to Australia - just after an interview
for Optus Vision's Pedal Power program - the Elite season is so much
more than just the Tour. "People tend to forget that you're out there
racing for 10 months of the year," was how Robbie put it. "For
Australian fans, I can understand that they have such an obsession with
the Tour - it's the only event we ride overseas that they can follow in
the media. Still, it's frustrating."
When I spoke to him for this interview, Robbie was preparing himself for
a return to racing of the past, a local new year's track carnival...
Robbie McEwen: -
I'm racing a track carnival tonight. My club, the Gold Coast Cycling
Club, is holding their two-day track carnival. So I've pulled the track
bike out and dusted off the cob-webs for that and I'll have a go. I'll
ride some scratch races, point scores a wheel race and a KEIRIN!
Rob: - That should suit you nicely...
RM: - The keirin won't. Oh, the longer stuff won't be too bad.
I'm fit and I'm going all right. I raced a crit at Robina on the Gold Coast
- the new year's day Criterium. I was second to Jason Phillips. He stayed away
in front of a group. There was a group of four away in the last lap and
then he attacked them and we caught the rest of them and I got second.
It's hard for me there because there's a team of guys from John's Cycles
and they just got together and attacked one after the other and
eventually one got away.
It's still a good hit-out and part of the training. There's no UCI
points so it doesn't really matter does it?
Rob: - How's the kick coming on. Will we see you win a few crits at the
RM: - We'll see. I reckon I can win a couple - I'm going pretty well. The
form is all right and I've been training quite hard and doing a lot more
on my own.
I'm in about the same condition [for the Bay Series] as last year, but
at the Bay crits last year I was going well because I came out feeling
good after the Perth Crits. I was going strong, but that's normal form
now. In the past I would have said, "Yeah, I'm flying!" but now that's
the sort of form you have to have before you go away because that's just
normal form in Europe: you have to be able to ride like that just to be
competitive and you just go up from there. You have to take it to a new
Rob: - That must be awkward for you when you're topping everyone in
Australia and you have to go overseas and take a step up...
RM: - Oh yeah, but you get there, you do longer racing, longer, harder
kilometres and you really try and peak for a couple of races. I go into
the early Spring races and I hope to be in good form for those races.
Say, Milan-San Remo, I reckon I can get through that race and get over
the last couple of climbs in the front and who knows? Erik Zabel won it
this year and about 50 guys got the finish for the sprint, so why not?
Rob: - If you had a pick of races you wanted to win, which would top your
RM: - I'd say Paris-Tours at the end of the season, it just depends on how
I'm going. Then of course, stages in the Tour and any 2.1 race like Tour
de Suisse and Four Days of Dunkirk and Tirreno-Adriatico and maybe a few
races in Belgium like Gent-Wevelgem and Het Volk.
When you're going well, and you're going strong every race is good
'cause you're in the front and you're motivated. It all depends on
you're form; whether it's raining and snowing or you've got bright
sunshine. If you're motivated and you're riding strongly then everything
Hopefully this season I can avoid a major sickness like last season. I
went to a training camp and almost immediately got a stomach virus and
was off the bike for about seven or eight days. I went away from
Australian in really good conditions, ready for the season then I got
sick and took 10 steps backwards. My preparation and my first races were
really difficult. So instead of winning them I was like fourth and
fourth and fifth and fifth and fourth again... But I didn't win any
because I lost that condition and strength through being sick.
I lost about four kilograms and I was already pretty lean, but getting
sick I just withered away. I had to try and build back up. My racing
weight is about 65 kilos (171cm tall).
Rob: - Have you got your new bike yet?
RM: - No. That should be there when I get back [to Belgium]. It should be
waiting at home when I get there. I might just get them to take it to
the training camp.
Rob: - Where's that?
RM: - The same place we always have it, in Tuscany at a place near
Rob: - What actually happens at the training camps? Is it hard-core
training or is it a chance to orientate yourself with who you're riding
RM: - It's hard training. We go out and get ready to race, so we go out
and do race distance rides. We do 200 kilometre training rides and don't
hang around - we average about 33-34kph and that's with some pretty
We move along pretty well and sometimes we'll do little team races.
There'll be a climb and you get points for the win and there are three
different teams amongst the one team so everyone has to have a go and
see whose little team wins the event. We'll have a hill-climb and a
couple of little sprints...
Rob: - Is that like High School football where you just pick your own
RM: - Oh no, you have a director and a doctor sitting in the team car try
and put a climber in each team and just try to make it even. It' s like
Rob: - Do you get on well with your team-mates and who do you "hang out"
RM: - I get on really well with them all. In particular, Arvis Piziks, who
was my room-mate, was one guy I got on really well with. But he's gone
to Jack & Jones this year. I have a few good mates in the team. Jans
Koerts is a really good bloke and Aart Vierhouten is another one who I
get on well with.
Rob: - How's your reputation as the team's sprinter holding up? Is there
any competition between, say, you and Max van Heeswijk to get the good
races as the team's sprinter?
RM: - Not really. Max hasn't done any sprints this year. He won a stage of
the Vuelta, but that wasn't even in a sprint. He went from the last
corner with about a kilometre to go and he got a short break and held
onto it. His win was more of a power win, not a sprint. Max seems to be
a bit scared of the bunch sprints so he doesn't end up doing so many.
Normally we're in opposite teams so we don't often to the same races,
but when he's there, he doesn't seem to do the sprints.
Rob: - When I spoke to you in Bordeaux, you'd just finished fourth. It was
the closest you got to the podium during the Tour and you were nothing
but frustrated. You said you thought you could really win a stage. Is a
Tour start in the plan this year and what is the different between a
fourth and a first?
RM: - The Tour is definitely in my plans and I think it's in the team's
plans too. They said "next year when you go back to the Tour", so
they've got me heading toward that again. I'll be riding a similar
program as I did last year, which is the perfect lead-up to the Tour.
I think the main difference for me running fourth or first is having a
couple of team-mates there who can really help in the finish. This year
it looks like I'll have a few guys there to help me. In 1997 the team
was really geared around the climbers and the GC riders and I was left
to do my own thing in the sprints, but I think I showed myself well and
showed that I can be up there and be competitive and I'm fast enough to
Our GC guys didn't do the job that they were expected to do so for next
year they will have to earn their spots on the team and prove that they
are good enough to have a team built around them. I think even then they
will put a couple of guys in to help with the sprint finishes. For
example Aart Vierhouten and Leon van Bon, they are my two best guys for
pulling the sprint. When they've done it, I've won. Like in the Tour of
Holland we worked well together twice and I won twice in a row. So I'm
expecting that sort of help and I can provide the results then.
Rob: - How do you think the new recruits from Heiko's team, namely Marcel
Gono and Jay Sweet, will handle their first year?
RM: - For a rider like Marcel, I think he'll find it tough for the first
year. Being a sprinter it's a little easier you can go to an easier race
where there aren't so many fast guys, or you can even go where they all
are, but you can follow and you do your sprint and there's only so fast
you can go on a bike. So sprinting you can come in and be competitive
almost right away. But Marcel is the type of rider who is more of a
climber and time trialist - especially - and there's a lot of really
good time triallers. It's something you've got to develop. You have to
develop as a rider and grow in strength and it takes a few years to do
that. I think you'll see Marcel coming through in a year or two, but I
think he will make it.
I think Jay will come up. I think in the first year he will get the
attention of a few. I think he'll win a couple of races and get his name
straight up there. And a few guys who'll think, "Who's this?" Especially
in the French races and with that team, I think they'll provide him with
a program that will suit him and they'll take him to races where he can
be competitive and not get thrashed around: that's important in your
first year - not to get too wasted!
Rob: - He's similar to you in your style and [BMX] background. Has he got
a similar sprint to you. Is that something you discuss? The way you get
to the front, is one more aggressive than others?
RM: - What I've seen of Jay in the last couple of years, all his wins have
been through the [Giant-AIS] boys - the text-book lead-out sort of
thing. That's really good because you've got to get used to that coming
into the pros because that's how you win. Sometimes in the amateurs you
can sit back in the bunch and and move through and do you sprint and
win, but in the pros you have to be more organised. I think Jay is ready
to go through. It's just a matter of whether his team can work for him
the way he needs. And I don't think they can in races other than some
French races. Otherwise he may have to work off the bigger teams or just
have a worker or two to help him up and save his energy.