An interview with Robbie McEwen, May 9, 2005
Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) has won Giro stages before, but today's victory in Santa Maria del Cedro was one of his best. Although nearly all the pundits were predicting an Alessandro Petacchi/Fassa Bortolo show, McEwen used his head and Jaan Kirsipuu's wheel to get round Petacchi's feared train with 200m to go and hit out from 100m to hold of Isaac Galvez (Illes Balears) and Robert Forster (Gerolsteiner) for the win and the precious maglia rosa, which he will wear in tomorrow's third stage. John Trevorrow was at McEwen's post-race press conference for Cyclingnews.
"This is up there," said McEwen when asked how this victory compared to his others. "It's nice to win a big bunch sprint in a Grand Tour when everyone is there and there is not a hill out the road that will drop some sprinters, and no corners were people will say I flicked through a small gap. Today I can say I was the cleverest and the strongest. Tomorrow, who knows, it may be someone else, but today was my day.
"It's also great in that it takes the pressure right off because I have had a long period where I have been sick since February and have not been riding at my level. I missed most of the spring and now to come back just in time for the Giro is sensational."
McEwen said that he felt in good form from the start of the Giro: "Yesterday I rode well, and then today to win the stage and to take the maglia rosa is unreal. I have had a long period where the form has not been there and I knew I had to take my time and build up slowly. Today is a result of five weeks of working really hard work and a good strong team. Gatesy [Nick Gates] was on the front most of the day today and did a big job yesterday also. Fassa rode on the front a lot as well as Domina Vacanze, so it was good cooperation amongst a few teams. But mainly it as Fassa and us, and at least Quick.Step did a bit of work until about 80 km to keep the break within touch."
The 15 km finishing circuit Santa Maria del Cedro was not an easy one, even if the final straight was about 4 km long. "It was a hard finish," explained McEwen. "That circuit was a lot hillier than it looked on paper and CSC were just driving it up the hill to keep Basso up the front because he lost a bit of time yesterday and I think they were a bit nervous.
"The 4 km straight run in was actually harder than a finale with corners because guys can just keep coming from behind. But you have to time your run to perfection. I ended up following the Credit Agricole guys, but they hit the front a bit early and it worked out good for me."
Then came the controversy. After finishing fourth, Alessandro Petacchi accused McEwen and Kirsipuu of working together against him. "Guys say things in the heat of the moment," was McEwen's response. "Look, you get a good break, and today it worked out for me. I was riding my race and I lost Henk a bit so I decided to jump on Kirsipuu. He was riding for his team and he clashed with Petacchi and I benefited. That's bike racing."
McEwen felt that Petacchi had gotten it a bit easy in the past and that other teams had allowed Fassa to dictate the terms. "Now other teams are prepared to take them on," he said. "As you saw today when there is more competition, Alessandro is not getting such an easy ride to the finish. You saw that also last year in the Tour de France."
Do you think that Petacchi is not brave enough? "Let's put it this way, this is not athletics, we are not running in lanes. There is no conspiracy. There was absolutely, positively, no talk of Kirsipuu taking someone out of the way. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and benefited from their clash. You can't push Jaan Kirsipuu out of the way when you feel like it, he's like a block of cement. Kirsipuu just kept going and I stayed in his slip-stream which is pretty big, he's a big solid guy.
"That was just how the sprint turned out today. Tomorrow could be different and the next day different again. I was just fast enough, strong enough and clever enough to be in the right place at the right time. If you let the Fassa train stay in front until Petacchi moves at 200 m to go then 9.5 times out of ten he will win."
So is Petacchi brave enough? "Of course. Two years ago Petacchi was winning sprints in the Tour from all places in the bunch.
Finally, McEwen was asked whether Petacchi looks like the good guy and him the villain? "I'm also a good guy," he quipped.