Despite an injury-plagued season, Australian sprinting stalwart Robbie McEwen hasn’t considered retirement and aims to be in peak condition for next January’s Tour Down Under.
His year was ruined due to a severely broken leg sustained during the Tour of Belgium and the subsequent complications that forced him to miss all three grand tours. It had been hoped he could have recovered from the initial injury, although when complications arose he called time on 2009 earlier than expected.
“Obviously I had a huge setback this year, breaking my leg at the end of May,” McEwen told Cyclingnews. “I tried to come back from it quickly but I had some persistent problems with the tendon because as it turns out, after some very meticulous scans a problem was found and once the specialist – a Swedish doctor I went to – got inside and did what he wanted to do, saw that there was so much scar tissue around the tendons that there was a lot more work to do. He had to remove all the scar tissue from around the patella tendon.”
In the style with which he has approached his entire career, McEwen remains focused on riding in 2010, his optimism carrying his through the recovery process. “The operation took place on September 16 and it was a successful - the scar tissue was taken out; I’m moving a lot better and without the pain that I had before that. Now I’m back on the bike every day. I’ve been back on for a month and today, for instance, I did 120km without pain and it’s looking better all the time. Things are going well,” McEwen explained.
“I didn’t have any thoughts about stopping – I did have the thought, ‘What if this hadn’t happened? I would’ve had a great year…’ I’ve always moved forward, though; I haven’t sat around and said, ‘Poor me, it shouldn’t have happened’. I’ve been focused, from the moment it happened, to get back on the bike and get my leg back up to what it was to be competitive again,” he added.
A greater goal in mind
McEwen’s aim of being in optimal condition for the Tour Down Under requires plenty of work however, although it’s for the ultimate goal of enjoying a successful 2010, something he knows he’s capable of achieving. “I was really keen [prior to 2009] to ride until the end of 2010. It was my goal to at least make it to the end of 2010, ride the worlds in Geelong as part of the Australian team and weigh up, maybe in the second half of the 2010 season, what I see myself doing. That could be stopping or doing another year… who knows?” said the winner of the Tour de France’s points classification in 2002, ’04 and ‘06.
“The most important aspect is that I want to go out on my terms, when I feel like I’m ready to stop,” he continued. “I don’t want to be forced by an injury, so I’m constantly giving it everything to get better and back where I belong.” Does this mean that while he can write off 2009 to bad luck, 2011 could be an option for McEwen to make up for lost time?
“The obvious thing at the moment would be to try and build up and concentrate on the 2010 season – I want to make a good comeback at the Tour Down Under – and after that I’ll just see how it’s going. It’s kind of unpredictable, an injury like this; is it going to keep getting better, or get to a certain point then plateau before becoming better or worse…? As for eight months down the track, nobody knows. I just have to play it by ear and keep doing the very best I can with it,” he said.
“It would be easy to say, ‘Oh, I’m just going to stop’. That was never my plan, so I’m going to stick to my plan, and whatever tries to get in my way, I’ll go round it, over it, under it or through it… and that’s what I’m trying to do with this knee injury,” added McEwen.
As for his comeback race, the Tour Down Under, McEwen explained that he’d love to be in a position to finally take the crown that fans in Adelaide have been willing him to do for so many years. He’s one of the city’s favourite ‘adopted’ cycling sons and the victory would be a popular one. “I’ve been second and third overall before; the year I got second Pat Jonker won the race after he went off in a breakaway on the first day, which sewed up the overall,” he said.
“The idea for me is to try and be in top form when I get there and try to challenge for the overall. There are no huge mountains in the race – there are a couple of climbs, but I wouldn’t call them mountains – there’s no time trial but you’ve got to be going really well.
“It’s become a lot more controlled since it’s become a ProTour race, with all the big teams. That first ProTour event effectively puts you as world number one and leading the rankings until the Tour of Flanders. It is a really important race that I respect and Andrei Tchmil has said to me he’d like to see me really come out and try to be at my best at the Tour Down Under and win it. I’m happy with that, and that’s what I’ll try to do.”