By Shane Stokes in Ambri
Tour de France maillot vert contender Robbie McEwen was in a relaxed mood yesterday evening, despite pulling out of the Tour de Suisse on the seventh stage. The Davitamon Lotto rider spoke to Cyclingnews after he and his team finished eating their evening meal and seemed confident that a slight niggle with his knee, it will settle down before the Tour.
"I pulled out of the stage in order to protect my knee," he stated. "I think it was giving me trouble because we have spent a lot of time in the big mountains and I normally don't do that too often, for obvious reasons.
"I always ride this race as preparation but this has been a particularly hard Tour de Suisse. As you have seen, there has not been one finish where the whole bunch has got there together. The closest was when [Daniele] Contrini won, but if he hadn't been as far ahead as he was, it would have blown to pieces on the last climb. The organisers have been putting climbs in near the finish, these big bergs which are pretty hard. My knee started to get a tiny bit aggravated and I just wanted to play it safe. But it should be fine.
"Today, I got dropped right from the start. I was almost coming back, then I didn't, then finally I got back into the bunch. I knew there was a sizeable break, eight guys at eight minutes with big mountains still to go. I thought I would take the gamble and pull out to save my knee, play it safe, as I didn't think the peloton would catch them.
"In the end, Freire stayed away by three seconds," he said, laughing. "But it was probably the right decision anyway. There is no danger my knee is going to affect me further now. It is just to stop it getting any worse now. The problem will be gone in a day or two, I think it was just a bit of overload in the mountains.
When asked what he thought of Freire's kerb-jumping manoeuvre, McEwen was complimentary. "I watched it live, I was already in the team bus by then. I could appreciate it... I thought it was pretty clever that after 230 kilometres of being in the break, he still had his wits about him to look that far up the road and see where the cars were going.
"But then he sort of... it was almost like he did it and then hadn't realised what he had done. He kind of freewheeled through and I thought "hey, he doesn't know where he is, if he is off the front or off the back." Then suddenly he went click, click, click through the gears and took off, then that was it. It was pretty clever."
McEwen mentions riders such as Boonen, Hushovd, Freire and Zabel as his rivals for the green jersey in the Tour de France. He had told Cyclingnews yesterday morning that he was likely to withdraw from the Tour de Suisse at the end of the stage, but said last night that doing so a couple of hours earlier than planned doesn't worry him or disrupt his own chances.
"I came here after a break from racing for three weeks," he pointed out. "I am looking to get back into the rhythm again. Often I come to the Tour de Suisse and suffer like anything in the hills, but most years I am able to pop off a stage win or two because I am going good on the flat and I am sprinting well.
"I am feeling about the same as the other years - I am still suffering in the hills, but there haven't been any real flat stages to do something in. But I am not too worried... I should be fine for the Tour."
A full Robbie McEwen feature will appear soon on Cyclingnews.