An interview with Robbie McEwen, July 3, 2006
Boom-boom Becker? No. Boom-boom Boonen? No. Boom-boom McEwen? Yeah!
Monday, July 3 marked Australian sprint king Robbie McEwen's ninth Tour de France stage victory. Less than half an hour elapsed since taking the stage win before the Davitamon-Lotto rider was at the winner's press conference - but as Brecht Decaluwé and John Trevorrow found out, he's already looking for more!
Q: This is your ninth victory; has this victory a special meaning to you?
Robbie McEwen: Every stage you win in the Tour de France is special. This is the last one, but I remember every single one of them in a different way. Today is a very special one, because it's the most recent one.
Every year you have to prove yourself again and again. And you can't forget the fact that I've just turned 34, they often say that when sprinters get older, they get slower. I haven't slowed down yet, so that's a good sign. The stage was nice because, the way the team worked very well together. It was a very tough final with those small hills. I survived the stage very well and had plenty of speed. I think that what makes it special is that every year you start with a big zero on the scoreboard. You have to come here and you have to score. There's that pressure to get that stage win; now I've got it and that takes a bit pressure away. We can go for more!
Q: What happened in the sprint with Hushovd?
RM: I've already spoken with Thor since the finish. Heand I already watched to the video together. Thor came with his front wheel against my left foot.
When I looked at the video and what I remember of the sprint, I started on the wheel of O'Grady and he was behind Zabel. Then I went past both of them. Because O'Grady passed Zabel on his left, I needed to go even more to the left. From there I road a direct line, as the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, to the finish line as the road curved just a little bit to the right. With about hundred metres to go I felt something against my foot and I pulled back to the right. That proved to be Hushovd and he was waving over the line [in protest]. Afterwards, we watched the video together and he said, "no problem". We're still friends.
Q: Were you affected by the hot weather?
RM: Everybody was thirsty. It's the same for everybody; it makes it a long hard day and you have to drink a lot. The guys who get the water bottles have extra work to do; you have to concentrate on making sure that you drink enough the whole day. You just got to deal with it.
Q: What was your tactic in the intermediate sprints as you didn't compete in them? Was your plan to concentrate on the final sprint?
RM: You can call it a tactic... I just didn't do anything. Not much of a tactic really.
Q: Do you think that the fact that Boonen and Hushovd worked so hard in the intermediate sprint improved your chances in the final sprint?
RM: It helps me to stay fresher at the finish by not doing them. For those guys, I don't know if they feel better after a couple of sprints before the final, or if they feel worse after doing some. Some guys like to get their motor running by doing the intermediate sprints. I just feel better if I rest, and save everything for the finish. I don't know, you'll have to ask them.
Everybody decides for themselves if they want to do it or not. If they want to sprint for two points each time in a effort to take the yellow jersey, or stay happy like me, putting all eggs in one basket, by going just for the stage win, where you get 35 points. That why I'm not interested in sprinting for two points down on the road and then doing a full sprint. But everybody comes here with a different idea about how they're going to do it and today mine was the best way I guess... but Hushovd takes the yellow jersey, so he's also happy!
Q: Did you expect that Boonen would be stronger?
RM: I expect Boonen and Hushovd to be strong and they are strong. But they are not the only strong sprinters. Today I showed that I was stronger. The Tour de France sprints are hard and Boonen is really strong and fast and he probably will win a stage - he might even win two, but the Tour is really difficult. It's not just about being the strongest, you sometimes need a bit of luck. You need to make the right decision at the right time. Everything has to be perfect to win a stage.
Q: Did Fred lead you out in the sprint?
RM: I was with Rodriguez when we got over the small climbs and in the final it was just me and Freddy. I just stuck to him like glue and Freddy knows what to do. You almost have to think he wanted the stage for himself [as his lead-out was so powerful]. He had to do a lot of work in the wind over the last two kilometres and I was able to follow him around and I didn't even have to think for myself until I got into the last 600 metres. He got me to about seventh or eighth in the last kilometre. I was next to Zabel with O'Grady on his wheel. I dropped behind O'Grady and I noted that Boonen was following me and so was Hushovd. Zabel hit out with about 250 metres to go. He just went for it. O'Grady went with him and I just let them go and let them wind me up for the first 50 metres. I then went straight out off the wheel and gave it full gas to the line.
Q: Do you think that tomorrow's stage could possibly end in a sprint; and if are any sprinters left at the end, who are they going to be in your opinion?
RM: I think it can end in a sprint. It will be something maybe slightly tougher than today. But it will be very difficult to escape on those last climbs. I think pretty much all sprinters will be there: Hushovd, Boonen, Freire, Zabel, O'Grady... they won't worry too much about those hills. I hope to be there too, and go for another stage win.
Q: What is different about you? What makes you the strongest?
RM: It's a combination of watching your buddy and using your head. But the most important thing is that you have to be able to ride your bike at 70 kmh. Then the rest is up to you to do it at the right time and make the right decision.
Q: Do you have to be crazy to be a sprinter?
RM: No. You have to be strong and smart and you have to know what you are doing and be confident. That's what I am and that's why I win stages of the Tour de France. Today I was the strongest. Yesterday it was Casper. Tomorrow it might be Boonen.
Q: Do you think that you're getting better as you get older?
RM: I don't know if I'm getting better, but I'm not getting any slower yet.
Q: What do you think about the green hands that caused Hushovd's crash?
RM: I was impressed with Thor's effort to come back after what happened yesterday. It just shows how strong a guy he is. He is a real fighter. He's got the yellow jersey back so we're definitely not done with him. I had the same problem with the hands in 2002 at the Tour and they banned the hands for a few stages, but they snuck back in again. It's time they started to put up a double barrier system. That would be better than Spain or Italy [where they use high barriers] where the fans look like criminals.