While the mountain specialists take centre stage during the Pyrenees, spare a thought for the sprinters suffering at the back of the caravan that crawls through the mountains. Still among them is veteran Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen (Katusha).
McEwen has not been able to win a stage at this year's Tour de France so far, mainly because of a crash after the fourth stage in Gueugnon. The 38-year-old collided with a photographer, and hurt his back and elbow.
In the days following the crash McEwen's name often crackled through the race radio among the first dropped riders. The Australian showed courage and didn't give in, even though many observers expected him to pull out sooner or later. Almost two weeks later McEwen is still there, and he's not planning to give up.
“I'm still not going well. My lower back is still bruised, my elbow is hurting too. I'm not sitting straight up my bike and because of that my knee starts hurting. I've caught bronchitis too. It feels like I'm hopping from one sore to the other,” McEwen told Cyclingnews.
“I'm not thinking about the possible sprint stages ahead. I look at things day-by-day, so right now I'm only thinking about making it through this stage,” McEwen said before the start of stage fifteen.
More than five hours later a hurt but proud McEwen lead the grupetto over the finish line. “I've done this before you know. I've got experience and I know how you handle these things. If you get dropped you've got to ride at your own tempo uphill, in the descents it's all about gaining time on the grupetto,” McEwen told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. “Everybody's hurting in these stages and the body isn't co-operating but during these stages the mind takes over. After my big leg injury I had only one goal, and that was this Tour de France. I'm not going to give it up just like that.”
McEwen wasn't looking forward to Tuesday's stage to Pau, and the fact that there's a furious Luxembourger in the peloton who's keen to put on some fireworks won't help.
“It will be really hard as it kicks off right away with the Col de Peyresourde. If they race a bit in front – which will always be the case – then it can become a very long they for us. For the general classification riders it's easy when they have a bad day because they end up in the grupetto and for sure they'll make it within the time cut.
"If we have a bad day and get dropped early on, then it's a 200 kilometre-long time trial through the mountains," he said. "It's a hard Tour and I'm going bad but I'm staying at the level I am, so I'm hoping that the others are getting worse so I'm able to come at their level.”