Triple Tour de France green jersey winner Robbie McEwen is upbeat about his condition heading into what will be his 12th Tour de France, appearing to be fully over the injury he suffered last season.
"I am feeling good... my form is exactly where I hoped it would be," he told Cyclingnews. "It is probably even a little bit better than I thought it would be."
The 37-year-old Australian went close to victory on stages four and five of the Tour de Suisse, finishing fifth into Wettingen and then going one place better the following day. "I was fourth the other day when Burghardt won. There were only 60 guys left and had we caught the breakaway, I would have had a stage win. So my condition is really, really good."
His showing is welcome feedback for him and his team, especially as there were questions this time last year about whether he could return to the top of the sport. He had a bad crash on stage two of the Tour of Belgium, injuring his knee, and had to undergo months of treatment. It's taken some time but for McEwen it's now just a question of chasing big victories again.
McEwen said that his only concern in the Tour de Suisse was the stomach problems he suffered on Wednesday evening, and their effect on his form on Thursday.
"I had a really tough day," he explained. "I was a bit sick the night before last with stomach problems. I got over the first two climbs yesterday no problem, but I just ended up running on empty.
"When you get crook guts, you don't take up the energy from the food and I couldn't get enough in to have any energy. I ran completely empty, but I made it to the finish, was able to eat last night [Thursday] and I feel better."
McEwen accurately predicted that yesterday's stage would most likely go to a breakaway. He finished in a group over 13 minutes back, crossing the line with fellow sprinters Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Gert Steemans (Team RadioShack) and Gerald Ciolek (Team Milram).
He has also played down the prospects of today's eight stage being settled in a bunch sprint, saying that the route is 'quite complicated.'
Indeed there's been little opportunity for sprinters in the race. "There are no real sprint, sprint stages," he asserted. "The one where the massive crash happened [stage four] was the only one that was close to being a proper flat stage, but even that had a climb."
Two stages now remain in the Tour de Suisse; today's leg to Liestal and then tomorrow's time trial. He knows that he's unlikely to pick up a stage win before Sunday evening, but will leave the race content that he is on track. If things continue to go well, he should be one of the strongest riders in the sprints of this year's Tour.
If so, he'll undoubtedly be up against Mark Cavendish. The Briton is having a more difficult season than previous years and departures from his HTC-Columbia team mean that the squad also appears to have less control over the peloton. McEwen doesn't want to write the team off however, and still regards it as the squad to beat.
"It is bit early to say that Columbia is less in control," he stated. "It is the Tour de Suisse and it is a different type of course... they will have a couple of other riders come in for the Tour. Okay, they are not as dominant as they were last year, but the Tour still has to be ridden and that is a whole different thing again."
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