His Giro d'Italia campaign prematurely over, Rabobank's Graeme Brown will now focus on the comparatively flat parcours of the Tour of Belgium starting Wednesday where he will work as a lead-out man for Theo Bos.
The 32-year-old missed the time cut by 33 minutes on the Giro's ninth stage between Messina and Etna, finishing along with compatriot and occasional sparring partner Robbie McEwen 59:35 down on the time by stage winner, Alberto Contador.
Ever the optimist, Brown describes his time at this year's Italian Grand Tour race as his "training camp."
It's a busy time of the year for Brown as he battles the cross-winds in races over the Belgian and Dutch hills where he is perhaps most comfortable. Following this week's Tour of Belgium, Brown will tackle the Tour de Rijke which he won in 2006, and the Delta Tour Zeeland where he finished third overall last season.
Rabobank heads to the Tour of Belgium two men down, with the squad hit hard with injury. Tom Leezer was not an option for the Dutch team, as he is still struggling with a knee injury. The other Australian at Rabobank's disposal, Michael Matthews, is still recovering from his heavy crash at the Tour of California, which he was forced to abandon. On a more positive note, Danish rider Matti Breschel will make his return from a difficult knee injury.
"That didn't leave us much to choose from but I am happy with the team we've put together," said Rabobank director sportif Erik Dekker. "They are great names, and men with ambition. And as the saying goes, 'you need two to tango and one to win a race,' that suits us."
Leaving the Giro
While Brown didn't have a say in his leaving the race, he scoffs as anyone who criticises sprinters for leaving the Giro once the flat stages are done.
"Why would they want to finish it was just ridiculous," he told Cyclingnews. "On the last road stage the grupetto came in at eight hours, 12 minutes – that's just stupid."
The two-time Olympic gold medallist said that while the stage itself wasn't to blame for him missing the time-cut, it was more the pace set by everyone else.
"I didn't actually feel that bad that day but I just couldn't ride that fast up the hill," he explains. "I got to a certain point in the race, 50 km to go, and I knew it was over. I'm not sure why, but I knew and I kept riding. At 30km to go my sports director asked, 'can you keep fighting?' I thought I've fought for the last eight days, so what's another 30km going to do."
Brown and McEwen have never been shy when it comes to words but the Rabobank man reckons that over the final hour of racing, the pair "said about five words to each other," so exhausted by their efforts.
Etna was certainly a tough day for Brown, but not the worst. That honour goes to the Giro's penultimate stage in 2010 where there were three major ascents climbing 6,320m for the day. Brown says that the thought of actually finishing a Grand Tour kept him going. He went home with the maglia nera.
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