It’s not often a super competitive sprinter like Robbie McEwen is happy with finishing runner up, but that’s exactly how the Queenslander felt after finishing third at the opening Jayco Bay Cycling Classic stage. The race marked McEwen’s return to racing after an injury plagued 2009 season that saw him recovering more often than racing.
"It’s great to be back out there and amongst it," said McEwen. "In other years I might have been disappointed to run third, but the result is probably the least of my worries at the moment. Just getting through it unscathed and getting back amongst it, I’ll build on top of that.
"I’m here to get race fit," he added. "If I happen to win a round along the way, that’d be great, but I’m happy just to be out there. My knee’s not sore riding around at the front of the bunch. I’ve started off with a third, I’ll try and I’ll try to build it up as we go through the series."
McEwen hit a street sign with his left knee at the Tour of Belgium in May last year, fracturing his shinbone and slicing through ligaments in his leg. McEwen admitted barely a moment goes by when he’s not thinking about his knee and its recovery.
"It’s on my mind 24/7," he said. "Every time I do something with it, whether I’m getting out of bed, sitting on the ergo or out on the road doing a sprint, I’m constantly thinking about how my knee is feeling. It’s the same today; I’m seeing how it feels using big gears, small gears. It’s just something that’s unavoidable.
"It felt good, no pain, no stiffness, so I think with a few more races in it, it will just get better and better," he said.
McEwen is the most successful sprinter in Australian cycling history, having amassed 12 Tour de France stage victories during a career spanning back to 1996. While McEwen is also a former Australian Road Champion, his goals for next week’s race are modest.
"It’s nice to be back in the bunch, certainly," said McEwen. "I’ve been looking forward to getting back into racing since the accident basically. This is the first little baby step in getting back into it, and this was only a 40 kilometre race. Over the next week I’ve got nationals on a very difficult course so that will be a bit of a test, not only for the knee but the fitness too. I’m not going in with huge expectations at nationals."
McEwen again brushed off speculation that this season could be his last as a professional cyclist. Instead McEwen said he expects to get a feel as the year progresses as to whether he’s ready to continue riding or will hang up the helmet in 2011.