The 12-time Giro d'Italia stage winner Robbie McEwen ended his sprinting career a decade ago but the Australian still feels an adrenaline rush when he commentates on sprint finishes for Eurosport/GCN and is excited about the sprinting battles expected at this year’s Corsa Rosa.
“I don’t wish I was still in there but I certainly get a kick from watching and talking about the sprint finishes. I definitely get an adrenaline rush,” McEwen told Cyclingnews as he analysed this year’s sprinters.
“Paul Sherwen gave me the possible piece of advice about commentating on racing. He’s said, 'You’ve been a pro bike rider, so be the rider and put yourself in the race.' I try to do that and so you get the rush. When I’m commentating on a sprint my heart goes up, I can feel it thumping in my chest. I love it.”
McEwen won a dozen stages at the Giro d’Italia between 2002 and 2007. He also won 12 stages at the Tour de France and won the green jersey three times, as he collected 116 victories during his 17-year pro career.
He was a compact but powerful sprinter, who used his boyhood BMX bike skills to often find a way to victory through the chaos of sprinting.
Giro d’Italia sprints have changed since McEwen used to clash with Mario Cipollini and Alessandro Petacchi, with lead-out trains smaller, finishes more hectic and more riders able to win the sprints.
“They’re way slower…” Ewan jokes, still slightly competitive with his fellow sprinters, when asked to make a comparison of sprint generations.
“To be honest, sprinting hasn’t really changed. But we don’t see a dominant lead-out train like we saw with Saeco, Domina Vacanza or Fassa Bortolo. The last dominant lead-out train was perhaps HTC with Mark Cavendish.
“I think that’s because there’s no dominant sprinter at the moment and so no team takes the risk of building their entire team around sprint strategy. Now there’s a lot more balance in teams, with two or three riders for a good sprinter, but also guys for the GC and for the breakaways. Some teams are even getting a little bit complacent, thinking they don’t need to surround their sprinter with a lead-out because he’ll still win one sprint during a Grand Tour.”
McEwen is happy to be watching and not sprinting at this year’s Giro d’Italia. There are, in theory, seven sprint opportunities, including Friday's opening, rising stage finish near to Visegrád north of Budapest.
“It’s a really tough Giro for the sprinters and I can understand why some of them wouldn’t even want to go there this year. Look at stage 1, it’s talked about as a potential sprint but it’s a category 4 climb,” McEwen said.
“I’ve spoken to a couple of guys who have ridden it and they say it all depends on how the climbers and GC guys race it. If they ride tempo, then perhaps some sprinters can survive. If they attack, then they’ll get dropped.
"I think Biniam is one of the favourites for stage 1. He’s not as fast as the pure sprinters but as he showed at Gent-Wevelgem, he’s fast after a hard race and can climb quite well. It all depends who throws down what on the climb and before it to get rid of the pure sprinters."
Cav and Caleb expected to show on the flat stages
McEwen is expecting Cavendish and Ewen to show their pure sprint speed and skills on stage 3 to Balatonfüred before the transfer to Italy and on the other flat stage finishes.
“On the flat and flattest stages, we should see QuickStep-AlphaVinyl and Lotto Soudal controlling the race for Cav and Caleb. On anything uphill or even flat, Mathieu van der Poel will be amongst it, too,” McEwen predicted. “Mathieu said he’s out to finish the Giro and if that’s really the case, he should win the points jersey because he can score points absolutely everywhere.
“Caleb Ewan is still the fastest sprinter out there if he gets a clear run. But that’s been his problem recently, he doesn't always get in a good position. His team seems to get it wrong and doesn’t finish in the top 20, but then the next day he pops up and wins.
“If they can look after him well, for my money, he’s far and away the quickest sprinter on the start list but he’s got to be in the right position.
"For Cav, having Michael Mørkøv as his lead-out man is a huge advantage, we know Mørkøv is worth his weight in gold in the sprints.
"We’ll soon find out how well Cav is going and so who is the best sprinter in the 2022 Giro.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.
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