By Anthony Tan in Sydney
At Cycling Australia's annual awards night, a surprised Robbie McEwen was awarded the Sir Hubert Opperman medal as 2005 Australian Cyclist of the Year. Held at the Rydges Jamison Hotel in Sydney last night, this year marked the 10th anniversary of the event and McEwen's second title, having previously won in 2002.
Earlier in the night, the 33 year-old from Queensland's Gold Coast was already taken aback by the honour of being voted Cyclingnews.com 2005 Australian Road Cyclist of the Year, beating nominees Michael Rogers and Bradley McGee for the title. So when his name was read again - and this time for the 'Oppy' - the normally vocal McEwen was temporarily speechless.
"I forgot my bow tie and didn't put my jacket on because I didn't think I was getting up here," were McEwen's first words on stage. "I was looking at the list [of contenders] and got my male road cyclist trophy, so I thought I'd go down to the bar and get a head start."
"This is a huge honour and I have a lot of people to thank - everyone that's been involved since the start of my career, and also my team-mates on the Davitamon-Lotto squad.
"But all the people I've ridden through... with over the years," the Freudian slip quickly corrected, but the entire audience were already cackling, knowing full well the former was exactly what McEwen had done since turning professional in 1996 to mould himself into one of the world's best road sprinters.
"Just seeing the footage of BMX made me remember where I came from as an eight year-old. I'm glad I got this award tonight, because there's so much talent coming through, my days are definitely numbered," he said in jest, arousing more laughs. "I'd just like to thank everybody that's been involved along the way and keep up the fantastic work - let's stay on top."
"Not many people win the award twice, so that's another accolade for Robbie," added Cycling Australia CEO Graham Fredericks, who also acknowledged the support network that has made Australia the top-ranked track cycling nation and the fifth best on the road in 2005.
Fredericks made special mention of Australia's head cycling coach Shayne Bannan, an individual who has always insisted on a continued European presence for Australia's under 23 road cycling program, a program that turned riders like McEwen and Rogers into 'wanted' athletes, and has more recently brought a new generation of cyclists that includes Simon Gerrans and Allan Davis.
"He's been instrumental in so much of what we've achieved," said Fredericks, noting that Bannan will gradually move out of his current position and focus his efforts on establishing a AIS training centre in Europe.
Bannan was treated to a standing ovation, remarking that "we have a fantastic group of people; when I say fantastic, I mean the administrators, the coaches and clubs, our fantastic coaching structure, and, of course, our athletes. We've been through a special period, and this is the start of a special era. This is just the start, and as long as we manage it correctly and as long as we maintain the commitment, who knows where we could end up."
Numerous mentions, accolades and dedications were given to former AIS athlete Amy Gillett, in particular by Coach of the Year Warren McDonald, the tragedy of five months ago still very raw among her team-mates, friends and, of course, her family. However, comfort could be taken in seeing Amy's team-mates involved in the crash - Katie Brown, Lorian Graham, Kate Nichols, Alexis Rhodes and Louise Yaxley - looking like they were well on the road to a full recovery, their smiles buoying the positive vibe of the evening.
Other winners included Oenone Wood (Cyclingnews.com Female Road Cyclist of the Year), Ben Kersten (Male Track Cyclist) and Katie Mactier (Female Track Cyclist). Awards for men's and women's mountain bike and BMX, junior track and road, junior mountain bike and BMX, masters, and disability categories were also given. In addition, separate media categories for story of the year, regional media and photograph of the year formed part of the evening's celebrations, the latter award proudly won by Cyclingnews photographer Mark Gunter.
A full list of award winners will follow.