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Robbie McEwen (RadioShack)
Thirty-nine year-old too strong, too fast for third season victory
Australia's Robbie McEwen claimed his third victory of the season, taking out the opening stage of the Circuit Franco-Belge, outsprinting last year's overall winner Adam Blythe (Omega Pharma-Lotto) while Rudiger Selig (Leopard Trek) was third.
The stage was marked by a three-man breakaway featuring Ronan Van Zandbeek (Skil-Shimano), David Lelay (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Jonathan Dewitte (Wallonie Bruxelles-Credit Agricole). The trio broke clear after 55km and quickly built up a six-minute lead before the peloton began to whittle away at their advantage and swallowed them up on the run-in to the finish.
In spite of a flurry of attacks in the finale, it all came down to a bunch sprint, and the veteran McEwen proved too quick praising the work of his teammates in the finale.
"With Sam Bewley, Michal Kwiatkowski and Gregory Rast I still had three teammates with me," explained McEwen. "Rast and Kwiatkowski brought me through the last kilometre and then Kwiatkowski guided me to the sixth position to start the sprint. An ideal situation for me.
"Sky was pulling for Russell Downing. Behind their trio of Sutton, Henderson and Downing, Blythe was there with his teammate Vandousselaere," he continued. "I was in the wheel of Blythe who accelerated. I could easily go around him and his teammate. My sprint was very regular, no explosiveness, but I continuously accelerated. I had to as the last 150 meters were really uphill. I could keep up my pace and won quite easily. This makes me happy."
RadioShack Team Director Dirk Demol said that age proves no barrier for McEwen.
"Despite his age that lends to less explosiveness, he never gives up and is always fighting for his position. He is an example for all other riders. The team also believed in him and worked a lot for him."
Circuit Franco-Belge marks the penultimate race of 2011 for 39-year-old McEwen, a victor in 12 Tour de France stages and a three-time green jersey winner at the French Grand Tour. The Queenslander will race Paris-Tours in his final race in the RadioShack kit before embarking on his final six months as a professional with GreenEdge in 2012. Mid-year he will join the staff as one of the team's 'tactical advisors'.