By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Augusta, Georgia
Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen was slated to start the Tour de Georgia for the Davitamon-Lotto squad, but last minute changes saw the multiple Tour de France stage winner decide not to take the start in Augusta. Nonetheless, Davitamon-Lotto is still built for speed with Fred Rodriguez and Henk Vogels packing a powerful one-two punch in bunch sprints. Rodriguez is not shy about his team openly targeting the first two and final stages as the main goal of the team this week.
"We have a couple of guys who are riding well, but I think we are going to focus on the three stage we have that are bunch sprints," Rodriguez told Cyclingnews. "I don't think we have anybody to compete against Tom or any of the top climbers or top time trialists. We do have some younger guys and we will let them give it their best chance and see what they can do. I'm not going to fool myself. Henk and I have three stages out there to make the best of it. The other stages are just way out of our league."
However, having McEwen here would have surely helped that goal along, but it was a late decision based on the bad luck much of team has had this spring in the classics. "I talked to the directors and you know, myself and Robbie have had a pretty off and on spring -- a lot of sickness and injuries," Rodriguez said. "Robbie crashed bad right before the classics started. He thought he would be back on form by now, but he was fighting a lot of discomforts, and right when he started getting better he got sick -- probably due to the stress trying to come back from an injury. He has had a pretty off spring for him, so he just wanted to stay home and rebuild. Coming here was going to be traveling, and the race is really an unknown to him."
Rodriguez has also had a rough spring, much like he did in 2003 before coming to the Tour de Georgia were he turned his season around with back to back stage wins and two second place finishes. With this in mind, Fast Freddie hopes to have a repeat of that Tour de Georgia.
"We'll see if I am back up to par after a choppy spring," Rodriguez said. "But it seems whenever I come home I seem to find an extra 'oomph' somewhere. Who knows, maybe it's the extra humidity in the air! But something does spark in me here. Even when I am down another level like in 2003, when I came into the Tour de Georgia with my head down having had the worst classics ever and not knowing what to do. I came here and all of a sudden I was on. I think it's just time. I had a month and the body had time to figure out what was wrong. Now I feel like it was the same thing, after a month of crashes, injuries and sickness -- now I've had a month off, just not in time for the classics but in time for Georgia."
That year Chris Horner was the man on top, but he is not on the start list either, but for far different reasons. "That [decision] was a big toss-up," Rodriguez said. "Chris has stepped up to a really good team now and wants to prove to our team after the classics that we had -- like with Peter getting disqualified unfairly. Now Chris is one of the top guys with Cadel [Evans] to do well in the Ardenne classics, and then the grand tour. So we need him for those classics with Cadel -- he is the next leader on the team. And at Amstel Gold he was top twenty and this weekend is Flèche Wallone. It is a shame it lands right on Tour de Georgia, but we're a Belgian team and you have to send your best climbers to that race."