Injury has plagued Robbie McEwen in 2009 and the Australian has been sidelined through injury for a significant part of the season thus far. With a comeback date announced, Katusha's experienced sprinter has his sights firmly set on racing the second half of this season and through 2010 while remaining philosophical about missing the second Grand Tour of the year, the Tour de France.
McEwen would have been in the running for a 13th Tour de France stage win - the highest tally for any current rider - had he been riding the event. It's a stage victory that also eluded him last season. It will have to wait for another year, albeit for a different reason. "I just try and put it behind me," McEwen told Cyclingnews. "Even though the Tour's still ahead, I'm already trying to put it behind me because I know for a fact that I won't be there... So I guess the fact of dealing with not winning a stage at this year's Tour is a little bit easier in a way because I'm not even there.
"It's really something out of my control. It was frustrating not to win a stage last year; I was riding well but it just wasn't happening... I was completely on my own against well organised teams. It doesn't matter how good you're going, it makes it bloody hard," he explained.
McEwen suffered a broken leg in an accident during stage two of the Tour of Belgium, his return to racing after being forced to miss the Giro d'Italia through injuries sustained in a crash during the Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen. A speedy recovery from his most serious accident has illustrated the meticulous approach and steely resolve he is renowned for.
The Australian explained his rehabilitation process, which actively began just nine days after the fall. "After nine days I got onto the exercise bike at home - like one of those in a rehabilitation clinic. For two or three days I did 15 or 20 minutes at a time; not much, just to see if I could do it," said McEwen. "That worked out. Three days later, day 12, I got onto the home trainer. A very light gear, no resistance and just trying to make circles.
"I spent about a week on the home trainer then I decided that it was the moment - it was a sunny day, 25 degrees [Celsius] so I whacked on a sleeveless jersey and went for a ride outside. I've been on the road now for about nine days. I'm taking it really gently - it's easy to get a bit excited and go a bit too hard," he said.
His approach to rehabilitation has mirrored that with which he tackles training for the Tour de France; structure is paramount to arriving at the Tour in peak condition and McEwen has utilised this during his recovery. "With a rehab it's very much the same in terms of having a structure, being organised, knowing what you want to do and where you want to head to," he said.
With his season hanging in the balance just three weeks ago, McEwen never considered making this year his last. "I've got a contract until the end of next year; I'll definitely still be going around, for sure. And I hope I'm still going around at the front and able to win races. I think that's realistic - I've broken my leg but I haven't snapped it off! I've still got two legs and I'm already riding the bike. With a lot of hard work I would expect to reach the same level again."
The 37-year-old Queenslander is already looking to returning to competition against riders who will be in peak condition following the Tour de France. It's ambitious, although the Australian wouldn't have it any other way.
"My very first race back will be a criterium in Diksmuide. At this stge that's my first comeback race and I think I can make it to that - I'm pretty sure I can. I look at how far I've come in 25 days since my accident... I've got another 34 days before Diksmuide so I think it's a realistic goal to go there and do an 80km crit, post-Tour for all the other guys. To get back into stage races and 200km one-dayers, I think I'm looking more at the end of August."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for a full conversation with McEwen in the coming days.
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