After enduring what he describes as, "the worst year of my whole career", Robbie McEwen will return to racing in January at the Jayco Bay Classic. And while the Australian hasn't had much racing preparation, he's keen to get on with the job and put a horror 2009 behind him.
McEwen spent most of this season recovering from a severe knee injury, the result of a heavy crash at the Tour of Belgium in May and complications associated with the damaged knee, which effectively ruled him out of every race in his program. And as he returns to race fitness it's obvious that the old McEwen motivation is coming back, however.
"I'm back in training, I've had good training up on the Gold Coast and I've been putting in some serious k's up in the hills," McEwen told Cyclingnews. "I've had no problems with the knee whatsoever, so I'm right to go. I'm starting to get fit - I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent yet, but it's only mid-December - and I think I'll be a contender at the Bay Criteriums."
The four-criterium series traditionally boasts the cream of Australia's sprinting talent, with an exciting blend of youth and experience making the competition fierce for an event held in January.
McEwen has won the Victorian event six times and a seventh isn't off the cards. He'll be riding for Team Mazda with another experienced fast man, Greg Henderson, the kiwi making the trip to Geelong as preparation for the Tour Down Under later in January. McEwen's preparation has been a little more low-key, however.
"I've been going out to club races and I've been sitting behind the bunch - a few lengths off them - and sort of like motorpacing I put myself far enough off them that I have to make an effort to stay there," explained McEwen. "As people get dropped I go around them and back onto the bunch. I just keep going round them and across to the front group then just sit off them.
"It's quite intense like a motorpacing session, which has been good fun. At the same time I've been doing a little coaching... As the race goes along I hand out a few tips although it's pretty hard training; I've been riding around the threshold heart rate, around 170 or 175bpm. I also did a bit of training with the boys from the Fly V Australia squad on the Gold Coast and we got out into the hinterland and bashing each other up," he added.
While races such as Milano-Sanremo, Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France beckon for McEwen, who will continue to ride for Katusha in 2010, the old adage of 'one race at a time' applies. He explained that the goal is to get as close to 100 percent fitness as possible.
"It's hard to say if I'll reach 100 percent of my form pre-injury. You never know how far you're going to progress on rehabilitation of an injury; it's going well now and maybe it's 80 or 85 percent. The important percentages are from 95 to 100, which is where you start winning races," he said.