Aussie's robbed of gold in final sprint
Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady came agonisingly close to putting two Australians on the podium in the elite men's road race, but a moment's hesitation by a rival cyclist and a blocking tactic by the Spaniards saw the pair instead finish fifth and sixth to Olympic champion Paolo Bettini.
"A Swiss guy had set his line going into the corner and [Erik] Zabel came underneath him and surprised him and he tried to adjust his line and ended up losing a length," explained McEwen. "Then he hesitated and suddenly [the gap was] fifty metres... and I'm looking at the guys riding away with the world title.
"It's a shame because I won the sprint of the group easily and I could see the world title just up the street," McEwen said. "We did a great race as a team and I rode exactly how I wanted to but that's racing."
"I think we [Australia] rode a really good race and Robbie and I were both perched perfectly in position and the next minute somebody let the wheel go and that was that," said a shattered O'Grady. "You can't do much when guys let the wheel go in front of you. It's a real bummer."
Cycling Australia pro rider co-ordinator, Neil Stephens, said the blocking tactic of the Spaniards was perfectly legal, even though Alejandro Valverde couldn't finish off the job: "The Spaniards did a great move splitting the race, which was a perfectly legal tactic and if we had done it we'd be 'high-fiving' each other," he said.
"But unfortunately they caused the split that meant we couldn't win and then they basically ran last [fourth] and second last [third] in that little group, so it didn't really work out for them either," said Stephens.
"The leader of the team on the day was Stuey and he did everything right, riding a really aggressive race. Then at the end, Stuey recognised that he had played all his cards and that the fastest guy in a bunch kick would be Robbie [McEwen] so he switched roles to set up the most perfect scenario for us - one of the fastest riders in the world leading out arguably the fastest rider in the world.
"That combination, without the split in the race, would have seen Australia first and second across the line but it didn't work out that way and we're all obviously pretty upset."
The disappointment was tangible as McEwen and O'Grady commiserated with each other immediately after the race. "That early break looked dangerous, but we figured the Belgians didn't have one of their protected riders up there and neither did the Italians or the Spanish, so we just played it cool and let the other teams do it [chase it down]," explained McEwen.
"We kept our cool though and followed the breaks with Stuey, myself and Michael Rogers. The other guys did a great job keeping us out of the wind, so it's disappointing when it splits, not because they were stronger but because it just split.
"That's racing and we'll get over it," lamented McEwen. "If we had a tiny bit of luck today I'd be standing on the podium in the world champion's jersey but we can be satisfied with how we rode."
"We knew it was going to be a pretty tactical race and it turned out to be just that," said O'Grady. "It was always going to be on the limit if the break was going to be able to stay away with the speed of that last eight kilometres of the circuit."
Of the other Australians in the race Cadel Evans finished with the main bunch in 40th place, Michael Rogers was in the next group in 50th, Simon Gerrans finished in 89th place and Matthew Hayman was with the same group, while Matthew White, Nick Gates and Bradley McGee did not finish the race, pulling out after their respective jobs for the team were done.