By John Tervorrow in St Quentin
Robbie McEwen demoralized his opponents with a sensational burst of speed and power. He also silenced many critics with this his 10th Tour stage win. McEwen is now only 12 seconds behind leader Boonen and a win into Caen could see him grab his second Golden Fleece. But more importantly, he is back in his favourite colour – green. He know leads the battle for the malliot vert by 9 points from Boonen.
"This was a stage which suited me perfectly. In fact I had handpicked this one when the Tour route came out last year, it was just perfect for me with the slight left hand bend about 180 before the finish line," an excited McEwen said.
Before today's start in Huy Belgium, McEwen was confident but worried how things would go after losing lead out man Freddy Rodriguez yesterday. "Gert Steegmans is strong and fast but lacks Freddy's experience," McEwen said.
After the finish it was a different story. "He was incredible, he's a very very strong man but he hasn't done it at this level before. He listened to everything I said and he did it just right. He did his job perfectly. You couldn't have written the script any better. I told him at about the 100km mark what our plan would be. He moved up a bit early and I had to tell him to back off for a little while and he could hit it at the 450. I told him to think of it as a flat out sprint to the 200. At the 450 he came and got me and he just did it perfectly. He was so strong."
Michael Rogers again sprinted strongly to take 12th in the stage and, more importantly, kept out of trouble and is still only one second behind Boonen in general classification. Australia's other overall contender Cadel Evans also rode a smart race and is only 20 seconds down on the big Belgian.
But the other big Australian story of the day was the remarkable ride of Stuart O'Grady. Starting the day with a fractured L4 vertebrae, O'Grady was in a lot of pain as he approached the start line. But the gritty South Australian rode beyond the pain barrier to make it to St Quentin with the leaders. "That is definitely one of the toughest days of torture I have been through," an exhausted O'Grady said. "As they say in the classics, I guess I'll just have to take it day by day. Each day done is another one down."