By Anthony Tan
On a rainy Sunday afternoon out at Dunc Gray Velodrome, newly crowned Australian cyclist of the year Robbie McEwen found himself in a hostile environment, racing against some of the top track riders in the world at the Sydney Thousand track carnival.
Jumping off a plane from the Gold Coast a few hours before he was due to race, the 33 year-old struggled in his first event - a 30-lap motor pace - where a breakdown in communication saw him lose the wheel of his derny rider Tom Skulander. "In the motorpace, the communication wasn't quite there; it wasn't according to the plan that we talked about before the race," McEwen admitted to Cyclingnews.
"The plan was just stay with him [his derny rider] and go towards the front with around 10 to go. We nearly lost half a lap straight off the start, so I had to cross that gap and that hurt already. And then I got caught high up on the track and was there for 10 or 12 laps; I said 'wooh', he let go, and he left me... " One rider far more comfortable on the boards of Dunc Gray, Mark Renshaw (soon to move from his current Francaise des Jeux team to Credit Agricole in 2006), found himself in the box seat, outriding Cofidis neo-pro Chris Sutton and Chris Young to claim victory.
In the final event of the afternoon, a 30-lap scratch race, the two-time Tour de France green jersey champion looked far more comfortable. When McEwen's turn at the front came, the 2,000-strong crowd of knowledgeable onlookers cheered on the most recent winner of 'the Oppy'.
"The scratch race was good; I had a couple of hard moments, but it was actually nice to see a few track riders pulling out of the line and pulling out of the race," he said. "I actually - for a brief moment - thought about making an attack before they started going quick again. I was thinking: 'Maybe I should go now... '"
However, before McEwen committed himself, the 20-odd riders remaining upped the pace significantly. At that point, the Queenslander was at the back of a strung-out line of riders, and when a rider in the middle sat up, it was game over for Robbie. In the end, Korean national team member Sun Jae Jang showed a great turn of speed to win the race comfortably over 16 year-old Sydney Thousand winner Leigh Howard and Peter Fitzpatrick.
"It was good fun, I had a really good time. I felt fine in the scratch race; I reckon if I'm fit and I race on the track again, I'd go alright," said McEwen, summing his second brief stay in Sydney within the space of a week." Less than two hours before was due to catch a 9pm flight back home, an ASDA official lurking in the background asked him to provide a urine sample - the drug testers never too far away.
For complete coverage of the Sydney Thousand, click here.