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Viridian Noosa International Criterium - NE
Noosa, Qld, Australia, November 6, 2004
McEwen wins Noosa International Criterium
Young gun Cantwell learns tough lesson in photo finish
By John-Michael Flynn in Noosa
A phone call to Eric Zabel prior to today's Viridian Noosa International Criterium could have made all the difference for 22 year-old Australian cyclist Jonathan Cantwell.
For just as T Mobile's champion sprinter learnt at this year's Milan - San Remo, celebration should follow victory - not precede it.
On the verge of claiming a breakthrough win, his arms raised in the air triumphantly, Cantwell learnt the hard way never to underestimate the masterful talents of Robbie McEwen, who today 'stole the chocolates' in the cheekiest of fashion... right on the line.
Clad in the green jersey he so painfully earned in this year's Tour de France, Lotto-Domo's gun sprinter displayed all the cunning of a seasoned professional to score the most popular of wins before a delighted home crowd.
McEwen's eyes must surely have been as sharp as the fast-fibre muscles in his legs, as for a matter of minutes he was the only person, riders or commissaires, who seemed certain of discerning first from second in the closest of photo finishes.
"When we hit the line I had the feeling straight away that I got over in front of him," McEwen said of his trademark victory.
"He just made a little bit of a mistake getting to the line. When you put your hands up in the air too early then it can turn out the wrong way for you."
For Cantwell it was a case of 'the best lessons are often those hardest learned'.
The finish line blunder, an experience the Australian Under 23 representative will take on board, when he returns to Europe next year as a development rider.
"With Robbie you get pins and needles with someone like that behind you chasing you down," Cantwell admitted after getting pipped at the post. "I'm 22 so I've got a long time to get with them, so as long as I'm competing against them now I'm happy."
Racing in paradise
Run in conjunction with the famed Noosa Triathlon (largest in the southern hemisphere), The Noosa Criterium has traditionally been a perfect excuse for Australia's road cycling elite to enjoy an 'end of season junket' at the sub-tropical beach resort haven.
In 2004, the event attracted a field of 49 elite riders, among them McEwen, his Lotto team-mates Nick Gates and Hank Vogels, and Rabobank's Matt Hayman.
Fresh from competing in the Crocodile Trophy Mountainbike Race, McEwen's Belgian neighbour Christophe Stevens (Chocolade Jacques) and Germany's Martin Kiechle also made the journey to Noosa to give the Australians some European opposition.
"I never helped Robbie before and I'm not going to help him today," Stevens affirmed before climbing on board his borrowed bike for the 40 minutes plus 3 laps criterium around the streets of Noosa.
"This is going to be like one hour of torture for us, we've been on the mountainbike for two weeks and this is something completely different."
The field also contained several of Australia's up and coming talents, among them Queensland David Betts, who along with his Australian squad team-mate Cantwell had just returned from Italy.
With Gates and Vogels riding shotgun, McEwen's plan, given his recent time off the bike and reduced fitness, was to keep the breaks in check and set up the race for a sprint finish.
Having recently signed a contract to race with a division two team in Europe, Betts made the first significant move of the race fifteen minutes in, but the breaks were systematically hosed down as McEwen sat snuggly near the front of the pack.
With three laps remaining the bunch was still together, McEwen's team-mates predictably moving to the front to set up the sprint finish.
The dash to the line proved a highlight for the 5000 spectators watching the race from vantage points both roadside and on resort balconies as McEwen timed his run once again to absolute perfection
"I thought I wasn't quite gonna get there but I saw he didn't make a full throw," McEwen revealed in his final analysis. He (Cantwell) started to put his hands in the air and I've done one of my longest throws to the line."
The victory also brought a change of luck for Australia's leading sprinter, who's had a tough off-season renovating his house and trying to enjoy some quiet time with wife Angelique and son Ewen.
"Makes the week a bit better," McEwen told Cyclingnews. "I lost my wallet, I lost my keycard on a seperate day, I lost my Mastercard the next day, then we got burgled last Saturday.
"I think we're starting to go in the right direction now."
A week later it was Cantwell who could easily have felt burgled, though in a paradise like Noosa, disappointment just seem to disappear. "It's always good to go well in a home crowd event, the atmosphere in Noosa is incredible," he said.
Images by John Flynn
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo 2 Jonathan Cantwell (Aus) Lifecycle 3 Adam Tully (Aus) 4 Matt Hayman (Aus) Rabobank 5 Toby Hood (Aus) 6 Kurt Dutton (Aus) 7 Brad Nightingale (Aus) 8 Jason Phillips (Aus) 9 Chris Prior (Aus) 10 Damien Turner (Aus)
2003 Allan Davis (Aus) O.N.C.E.-Eroski 2002 Matt White (Aus) US Postal 2001 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Domo-Farm Frites 2000 Scott Sunderland (Aus) Palmans 1999 Marcel Wüst (Ger) 1998 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) 1997 Robbie McEwen (Aus)