If there's one race that's really captured the imagination of Robbie McEwen, it's Milan-San Remo, and following his absence last year while riding for Katusha the once-dominant sprinter makes a return to the race with Team RadioShack.
The Australian's best result at La Classicissima was in 2007 where the then 34-year-old finished fourth in a bunch sprint behind Oscar Freire (Rabobank), compatriot Allan Davis (Discovery Channel) and Tom Boonen (Quickstep-Innergetic).
When it comes to this race, McEwen is like a kid as Christmas draws near. He knows he has to be good and his eyes light up at the mere mention of the most prestigious of Italian one-day races.
"The history; the prestige; the atmosphere; the way it plays out - its unpredictable nature," McEwen reels off as he explains his passion for Milan-San Remo. "Look at the honour roll!"
But not everything has always gone to plan when it comes to joining the prestigious winner's list as McEwen explained to Cyclingnews.
"It's always a tough one for me," he said. "I seem to struggle with my health a little bit through February-March in Europe. I'm not much of a cold weather person. It's a bit of a change but also having little kids that come home from school with a sniff and a cough and all the other little kid's germs that makes it tough to stay healthy. That time of the year in Europe, things are just going around. I seem to be a bit susceptible to that.
"I had a stomach bug mid-February but got over that quickly. I've had a cough and a cold that I picked up from my kids but it seems to be under control and I feel good."
In fact, McEwen says he feels "strong on the bike, fresh and really motivated."
Much of that comes down to a relaxed start to the season where, after joining Team RadioShack at the Tour Down Under, McEwen raced the Challenge Mallorca Series; Tour of Mumbai; Giro Sardegna and most recently the Tirreno-Adriatico.
"So far my form has been quite okay and improving steadily week to week," he assessed. "I've had a long steady build up and I felt this last week at Tirreno-Adriatico that I'm approaching my best form. The sprints didn't go according to plan but I feel very good and I'm looking forward to Saturday and the rest of the spring races."
McEwen skipped Tirreno's time-trial in order to get an extra day of relaxation before Milan-San Remo, heading back to his home in Belgium prior to arriving in Milan on Friday.
At the start of the season, McEwen seemed resigned to the idea that this would be his farewell year in Europe following a tumultuous few months which culminated in the Pegasus collapse.
"My dream scenario would be to train through the summer of 2011/2012 and finish my career in Australia with my last races at the Bay series and Tour Down Under 2012 and then stop, but who knows," McEwen said.
"So I've got now what I'm planning to be my last season, on the road in Europe, and I want to have another crack at the biggest races."
Asked by Cyclingnews whether the 2011 Milan-San Remo would be his last, the Australian is now non-committal. "Hard to say," is all he offers.
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