News feature, November 27, 2005
Surprised maybe, but when one takes a good look at Robbie McEwen's 2005 season, the 33 year-old was a deserving winner of the Sir Hubert Opperman medal as 2005 Australian Cyclist of the Year, writes Anthony Tan.
His season in a nutshell: fifteen victories that included his second Australian road title, the GP Fourmies and Paris-Brussels semi-classics, a stage win at the Tour of Qatar, Niedersachsen-Rundfahrt and Tour de Suisse, and three stage wins apiece at the Tour Down Under, Giro d'Italia and, of course, the Tour de France.
"What makes me happy is it's hard to pick between 2002, 2004 and 2005 - similar results in all three years, but under different circumstances each time," says McEwen to Cyclingnews, asked if he still rates 2002 as his best year ever, the year he earned his first 'Oppy'.
"It's nice to win an award, it's nice recognition - but it doesn't win you any more races!" - Awards are nice, but come second to McEwen's voracious appetite for winning
"It's hard to say... 2002 was the real, absolute breakthrough, 2004 was coming back after a slightly ordinary 2003 and performing like I did at the Tour de France with a bad injury where I broke my back. This year, I turned 33 and people started to say, 'Well, he's 33... is he going to slow down, is he just as quick this year?' or 'Petacchi, he can't be beaten' or 'Boonen, he's the young guy coming up and no one can beat him' - and I beat both those guys during the course of this season - they beat me too - but I had another very good season, reconfirming what I'd done last year."
Still, McEwen was certain he wasn't going to win: "Like I said, I didn't even put my jacket on, didn't have my shirt done up... I was just sitting in my chair waiting to see who it was going to be."
So who was your pick, then?
"It's funny; I hadn't picked anybody," he says. "I didn't think: 'he's definitely going to win or she's definitely going to win'. Really, for the overall cyclist of the year, they could of picked any one of 10 people. The odds were against me having already won it once, being a road rider when there's a lot of road riders on the list already... we've got some fantastic cyclists who have won world championships on the track, World Cups, the IPC [Paralympic] athletes - when I look at their list of results from this year, it's incredible - so it is a big honour to win it."
While awards and further notoriety are icing on the cake for the muscly McEwen, he soon reverts to his primal needs when asked what it really means to him. "It's nice to win an award, it's nice recognition - but it doesn't win you any more races!" he says in jest, although one could tell their was a more than a pinch of truth to those words.
"I think you realise what goes into it and how other people can help you - you also realise how cycling fits into the scheme of things. Something that brings that home is of course Amy Gillett's accident this year. That puts things into perspective; having your own family, that puts things into perspective - it's good, it's a nice sport, it's a fantastic hobby, it's great to be good at it - but it is just cycling."
Since turning professional in 1996 for Rabobank, switching to Farm Frites in 2000 which became Domo-Farm Frites a year later, joining Lotto-Adecco in 2002 that became Lotto-Domo in 2003, and now to his current team, Davitamon-Lotto, onlookers, cycling enthusiasts, fans, and media have witnessed a pleasing transformation within McEwen that has come with age. The rough edges have been smoothed, his finish-line tactics finessed to a fine art, but the brute that lives inside is alive and kicking.
"I told you I was going to win that day!" McEwen smiles, followed by a barrel of chuckles. We were reminiscing about his first Tour stage win in Montargis this year; this reporter mistakenly fired up an already angry Queenslander (at that stage, Boonen had won two stages and was wearing the maillot vert) when I asked him at the start: "It seems Boonen's on another level this year... " - to which he replied: "No he's not, no he's not - I'll show you he's not!" I was shown.
"I'm getting older, but I'm getting a better idea every year of what I've got to do and how I've got to go about things... it's still working OK so far, so I'll keep doing the same thing.
"It's the cliché they always say," says McEwen. "It's hard to get to the top but it's harder to stay there - and I feel that I'm around the top of the sprinters' world at least with a couple of the other blokes. The goal is to stay there."
Robbie McEwen's 2005 season highlights:
1st, Australian road championship
1st, GP de Fourmies
1st, Points classification, Tour Down Under
1st, Stage 5, Tour de France
1st, Stage 7, Tour de France
1st, Stage 13, Tour de France
1st, Stage 2, Giro d'Italia
1st, Stage 6, Giro d'Italia
1st, Stage 10, Giro d'Italia
1st, Stage 4, Tour de Suisse
1st, Stage 1, Tour Down Under
1st, Stage 2, Tour Down Under
1st, Stage 6, Tour Down Under
1st, Stage 2, Niedersachsen-Rundfahrt
1st, Stage 5, Tour of Qatar
2nd, Stage 1, Giro d'Italia
2nd, Stage 4, Tour Down Under
3rd, GP Isbergues
3rd, Points classification, Tour de France
3rd, Stage 2, Tour de France
3rd, Stage 1, Tirreno - Adriatico
3rd, Stage 6, Tirreno - Adriatico
3rd, Stage 2, Tour of Qatar
4th, Stage 21, Tour de France
4th, Stage 9, Giro d'Italia