2006: A year of reckoning
After a promising first year as a neo-pro that saw him contest Grand Tour stage victories with Mario Cipollini and Robbie McEwen, Graeme Brown's career on the road has fallen off the pace. An obstinate Achilles, internal rivalry within his trade team and a poorly planned race schedule all contributed to his lack of success, but a chance meeting with a fellow Australian has led to a new team and new hopes. Story by Anthony Tan.
Driving is often the perfect distraction when interviewing bike riders. For a variety of reasons, but above all, the setting provides a more relaxed, less staid environment to talk, particularly if you need to ask some difficult questions. So when Graeme Brown and his wife Hayley - who was at the wheel, mind you - were on their way to a wedding in Margaret River, Western Australia's most famous wine-growing region, it was a good time to chat.
The last time I saw the 26 year-old sprinter was at Malaysia's Tour de Langkawi in February this year. On the final day in Kuala Lumpur, he sailed across the line to claim his fifth stage win for his Ceramica Panaria-Navigare team, the orange-clad outfit also winning another two stages courtesy of their Argentine sprinter Guillermo Bongiorno. The team's domination evoked headlines that included 'Brown leads orange crush', 'Panaria's B1 and B2 unstoppable', 'Panaria rules, OK!'... the list went on.
However, it was three years since Brown left his mark in Europe. As a neo-pro for Panaria, the Sydneysider backed up two stage wins in Malaysia with an excellent first-week performance at the 2002 Giro d'Italia, narrowly missing out on victory against none other than Mario Cipollini on the opening road stage and finishing fourth four days later. His promise set up a potentially interesting match between himself and Robbie McEwen, even though the Queenslander was well ahead of him in the performance stakes, McEwen coming off his best-ever season that saw him grab two stage wins and the points jersey at the Tour de France.