“You just keep putting in the work every season,” Robbie McEwen told Cyclingnews earlier this year.
Having just won the OCBC Cycling Criterium in Singapore at the age of 39 the sentiment was wholly true to McEwen’s nature and attitude.
Singapore was not the most glamorous of wins, certainly not when compared to the 24 Grand Tour stage wins he’d amassed during his long career, but a win nevertheless. And having retired from the sport at the conclusion of the Amgen Tour of California, Singapore was his final win as a professional rider. Over a career spanning three decades he'd won a race in each year of his career.
In a sense, his performance in the far east summarised McEwen’s character. Tenacious, hard working, gritty and ultimately lightening quick. Those blots may have occurred less frequently in recent year but there’s no arguing with the Australian’s glorious career.
Twelve wins in the Tour, along with three maillot verts, a spell in jaune, 12 Giro stages, five wins in Paris-Brussels, a Scheldeprijs, Vattenfall Cyclassics, and Dwars Vlaanderen thrown in for good measure - few sprinters could match his consistency, let alone his speed.
In a career that was book ended by the two greatest sprinters ever seen in Mario Cipollini and Mark Cavendish, McEwen stands out as the challenger who faced up, ready for a sprint but without so much as a lead-out train. He was a sprinter in the old fashioned mould.
His most impressive win came in the Tour de France in 2007, when, after crashing with 22 kilometres on the stage to Canterbury, he regained contact with the peloton only after his Lotto team time trialled him back to the bunch, allowing the Australian to showcase his sprinter power. He won by over a bike length.
Three year’s later at the Tour de France, Johan Vansummeren, one of McEwen’s teammates that day, picked out the stage to Canterbury as one of his proudest moments of a professional, a rubber stamp to McEwen’s popularity among his peers. Vansummeren had been dropped just before McEwen had made contact with the bunch but punched the air in joy when he heard McEwen's win announced through race radio.
"It's been often been fun, it's often been painful but I've enjoyed every minute of it," McEwen said as he prepared for his first day as a retired professional.
Like his rivals, Cipollini and Erik Zabel, McEwen will start the next phase of his life as a sprint coach, working with the young bucks at Orica-GreenEdge. Come July, when the Australian team are going toe-to-toe with the likes of Sky and Rabobank, who knows, there might be a little bit of McEwen in their sprinter style and tactics.
We hope so.