By Bjorn Haake
Robbie McEwen is used to winning bunch gallops, but Tuesday the victory came against an actual horse. In St. Eloois Winkel, where Belgian Nico Mattan just retired on Sunday, McEwen took part in the festivities of the 151th Kermisdinsdag.
McEwen won the two-up sprint according to Sportwereld, and declared after the race that "It was tough. I was puzzled that a horse could run that fast." The 35 year-old Australian won the suspenseful 400-metre race by one and a half bike lengths. The parcours was slightly uphill, with a little bit of a headwind.
"We were doing a top speed between 54 and 58 kilometres an hour, and the horse just kept going well," he said of the the four-legger. "In the first part of the race it was ahead of me. I wanted to switch gears, but I was already in my highest gear."
McEwen eventually passed the horse, but admitted that "in the last 100 metres I had to give it all. I prefer a bunch sprint; I am more experienced at it." In addition, McEwen was glad that the horse didn't share anything in common with Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. "I am relived the horse held its line," as the two were sprinting along throngs of spectators with umbrellas. Fortunately during the race itself there was no rain.
The jockey, Jan Pattyn, had won two of the Winkel Koerse races before with his horse, Baron. "My knowledge of the course was an advantage, but I also had the outside lane and had to run a few metres more."
Mattan had previously participated, winning in 2004 against Silver Blue. He lost last year by several centimetres, proving that the horses are equal competitors on a short distance.