Robbie McEwen will end a two-year drought of Grand Tour racing when he starts the Giro d'Italia in Amsterdam on Saturday. The Australian will target stage wins in what will be also be his first three-week race with Katusha.
Last year, McEwen was forced to sit out the Giro and Tour de France as he fought back from a series of crashes and a serious knee injury. The veteran of eight Giros and ten Tours is enthusiastic about making his return this weekend.
"The Giro is one of my favourite races and always has been. I did it every year from 2002 and then obviously missed it last year due to injury. I'm looking forward to getting back there because it's two years since I did a Grand Tour," he told Cyclingnews from his home in Belgium on Wednesday.
McEwen will travel north to join his teammates in the Dutch capital on Wednesday evening. After racing all of the major cobbled Classics he is using the Giro as part of his preparation for a similar return to the Tour de France in July. His focus will be on securing a stage win over the course of the next three weeks.
"I'm purely going there to win a stage and if I can win one stage then that would be awesome, considering where I've come from last year with the injuries. I've started slowly but surely to find my legs again and build up strength through the first part of the season," he said.
"I think a few weeks at the Giro will stand me in good stead for the Tour and the rest of the season. I knew I'd need this first six months of the season to build back up to a good level. I'm feeling pretty good at the moment, pretty strong and I've had a couple of good performances. Second at Scheldeprijs wasn't bad, but I'm just keen to getting back to what I do best and that's the bunch sprints at the Grand Tours."
The Giro will be his first major tour since joining Katusha at the start of 2009. The team heads to the race with multiple objectives, but McEwen isn't fazed by the fact that he'll be left to fend largely for himself in the sprint finishes.
"The guys will do their best to help me, but we don't have a sprint-specific riders going to the Giro. We've got guys like [Vladimir] Karpets to ride for GC. Guys like [Giampaolo] Caruso, [Evgeni] Petrov and [Mikhail] Ignatiev to try and get in breakaways, [Luca] Mazzanti also for the hills," he said. "I guess two guys I might be able to rely a bit on some of the flat stages are Joan Horrach and hopefully Pozzato, to put me in position and drop me off where I need to be."
McEwen's previous participations at the Giro have seen him leave the race around the event's second rest day in order to reach a peak for the Tour de France. While his focus will remain on the flatter stages in opening two weeks of this year's race, he didn't completely rule out the possibility of pushing all the way through to Verona.
"With the Tour coming up only four weeks after the Giro finishes, its not really realistic that I'm going to finish the Giro and ride through the last week in the mountains when there's only one flat stage left. My plan is to get through the first two weeks, but you never know, I haven't finished the Giro yet; You never know, maybe [this year].
"I'm just going to take it day-by-day and treat each stage like a one-day race. The hillier stages I'll just take it a bit easy to make sure I can make it to the start the next day so I can concentrate on the sprints."
After the Giro, McEwen intends to race the Tour of Switzerland as a final preparation for his return to the Tour de France. However, with the birth of his third child imminent, the 37-year-old is preparing to juggle his professional and personal life in June.
"My programme has been quite successful over the last eight or nine years – do a couple of weeks of the Giro, go to the Tour of Switzerland for a week and then go to the Tour," he said. "My wife's due to give birth on the 12th [of June] and Switerland starts on the 13th, and I want to be there for her."
McEwen pointed towards the Giro's pan-flat, 209-kilometre stage three from Amsterdam to Middelburg as an opportunity to kick-off a big month of celebrations for the family.
"I'd love to win on Monday. It's my son's birthday, so that'd be cool."