Tales from the peloton, January 22, 2008
Australia's Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto) has won more Tour Down Under stages than any other rider, but the Queenslander thinks it'll be tough going in 2008. Cyclingnews' Greg Johnson found out why.
Silence-Lotto's Robbie McEwen is one of Australia's fastest men on a bike. The pint-sized McEwen has the acceleration and accuracy of a cruise missile in a stage sprint, but it's the latter of these traits he's hoping to apply to the timing of his peak fitness in 2008.
Mighty McEwen's magic sprint hasn't headlined at the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic or the Australian nationals in 2008, as it has in previous years. Instead the Queenslander is delaying his peak fitness as he did in 2007, in the hope of hitting his targets in March.
"Well like you say you haven't heard much of me during the summer; I haven't raced as much as the last couple of years and that was a conscious choice as I'm aiming a bit further into the season," he explained.
McEwen has won more stages than any other rider at South Australia's Tour Down Under. The rider has claimed an impressive 12 stage victories during the event's nine years in existence, but the Queenslander is a little unsure how his March plans will affect his performance in this year's race.
"Although I'd like to lie to you and say I'm going really good and I'm up, I'm not quite at the level I have been in my best years at the Tour Down Under, but I'm certainly not bad," said McEwen. "I hope over the course of the week to ride myself into the race and maybe a bit like last year pop up on the last day, but it I get a chance before that I'll try and take it too."
Having succeeded on home shores with victories at the National Championships, the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic and his impressive tally of 12 Tour Down Under stage wins, McEwen is focusing his goals on the early-season European events. Despite the realignment of his early season goals over the past 12 months, McEwen is still well and truly capable of claiming a stage win in this year's race - after all, the Queenslander claimed the final stage of the 2007 edition while following the same training program as this season.
"Well I've had other years where I've been able to win Bay Crits, Nationals, Tour Down Under stages, run in the first three overall here but I haven't been able to make it all the way through to the end of March with that form because I've maybe peaked a bit too soon, so I want to peak a bit later," he explained of the change in his approach. "At the moment I'm on the way up, but there are obviously guys here who are in very, very good form like our own Matt Lloyd, who won the national championships.
"I've just got to be realistic and see this as part of the build-up, but like I said if I do get a chance to do something I'm really going to try," he said. "I'm still going to give 100 percent and see what I come out with."
While McEwen has himself performed well in the overall classification at the Tour Down Under and held the Australian Road Champion's jersey on two occasions, it's another youngster on the Silence-Lotto squad that he's touting as the man to beat this year. Victorian youngster Matt Lloyd won the Australian championship race in Ballarat last weekend and will be the Silence-Lotto squad's general classification rider for this year's 10th Anniversary edition.
"He's our guy for the overall, but the race is very unpredictable," explained McEwen. "You never know what's going to happen on the first day - it could be a sprint, it could be two guys away like the year Pat Jonker won, it could be a big group of 30 and the rest are away. It's a very unpredictable race, but you always get a good winner.
"Normally the strongest guy always wins, there's no lucky winner at Down Under," he added.
As for McEwen's own plans, the 35 year-old is chasing the same thing he's sought, and claimed, in years gone by - victory. McEwen, who has claimed 24 stage wins between the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia Grand Tours, is aiming for some classics success in 2008 before once again focusing on the Grand Tours.
"Towards the second half of March I want to have a real good crack at Milan-San Remo again and then into some of the northern classics - in particular Gent-Wevelgem and then build up towards the Giro," he explained of his goals. "That's something that worked well for me last year; I had really good form in March by being just a little bit under done in the second half of January. I've tried to stay on that program to be at my best in March and be not bad here."
McEwen also praised the anti-doping effort which has stepped up a notch in 2008. Starting with this week's Tour Down Under, all ProTour riders will use the much hyped 'blood passport' profiling system, in an effort by authorities to further stamp out drug cheats.
"Certainly the clean ones are [happy about the new measures], yeah, for sure," he said. "A lot of the guys, we say it to each other, you feel it getting better, you notice it getting better. The tests are getting more strict and more frequent, and the sport is still moving in the right direction.
"When everything really stepped up and the sport as a whole decided that it was time to move in the right direction and stop all the crap, that was a time where it was going to get worse before it got better," he added. "I think we've come out of the deepest part of the dip and cycling is moving in the right direction and has taken other sports with it because they're following suit."
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