By Shane Stokes
Although Robbie McEwen missed out on a chance to win the second stage of the Vuelta a Espana, hitting the front with about 150 metres to go but fading before the line, he gave the impression Monday morning in Córdoba that he was relaxed about what happened. Rather than fret about placing fourth, he seemed confident that things would click in the next couple of stages.
"Perhaps I went a little bit too early," he told Cyclingnews. "I wanted to stay on the wheel of Rodriguez a little bit longer, but somebody started on my left. I didn't want to get boxed in, so I went too. I hit the front but then with about 50 metres to go I felt like I had nothing left. I couldn't really push anymore. I was still in front with 30 metres to go but then suddenly Bettini came from behind.
He feels the result was influenced by the conditions of the finish. "It was a really, really fast sprint, it was like a false flat downhill. It was really easy to follow on the wheels, but as we were doing over 70, to ride on the front was much harder. I went with about 200 metres to go, or maybe it was a little bit more, 210, and it was probably 30 metres too far. I was trying to hold on - I could see the line, I was getting closer, and then I couldn't push any more. I just didn't have anything left.
"Thor [Hushovd] started at about the same time as me, a few lengths in front of me, and he blew up at the same time. Bettini came past us both. I will just try again today; I don't often win the first stage in a tour anyway. I tend to feel a little bit better after a couple of stages."
The Italian and Olympic champion is not known as a big bunch finisher, yet McEwen said that the result was understandable. "It was not a huge surprise, Paolo did well in the Giro too… he finished second on a stage behind me there. He is a fast guy, he is an exceptional rider. He can climb like he does and he can still do a good finish as well. It is amazing. My first reaction was like, 'huh, Bettini?' But it wasn't a huge surprise because if he gets the wheel and if you start to slow down, he is going to be able to come around you."
The Australian was in dominant form during the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, taking three stages in both and winning the points jersey in the latter, but a lack of racing recently means that he was also feeling a bit rusty. "It felt like it had been a long time since I had done that [a big gallop], and that was actually the first real sprint I had ridden since the Tour," he explained. "I haven't really raced, I have done some criteriums and two one-day races. In one of those I pulled out after halfway, and in the other I rode on the front for the team and just finished it. It has been a long time since I have ridden a final and done the sprint - I felt that yesterday.
"I think that I should be a little bit better today [stage three to Almendralejo]. I have to get the engine up and running! It depends on the race too, it is a very long stage. As regards the finish, it is fairly flat and the last 500 metres is more like a false-flat upwards. That should suit me better."
McEwen also talked about his collaboration with leadout man Fred Rodriguez, plus his tactics when getting close to the line. "It was good yesterday, we have good communication. I just told him what to do and he did it. Going into the last kilometre I said to him "move up a little bit,"so he moved up three or four places. I said, "slot in here," and he did that, then I said "wait for it, wait for it…now go!" We are quite calm - if you scream at each other, you can't understand. You just have to talk to each other.
"The only thing yesterday was that in the sprint itself, he wanted to pull off to the left but I was trying to pass him on that side. So as a result I had to go around him. But things generally work well between us."