Robbie McEwen hasnít won anything in two months now. Since that stage in the
Tour of Switzerland nothing seems to work out anymore for the Australian
Lotto-Domo sprinter. The joys of last year have been replaced with painful
lessons. The long hot summer has passed, and the leaves of the trees on the
Parikeberg (Note: historic Flemish cycling hill) are slowly turning a shade of
brown. Nature is showing the first signs of hibernation, and Robbie McEwen is
counting the days to when he can start his own winter sleep. Six weeks to go
until he can return Down Under. Six weeks left to try and end the season with a
good vibration. The Lotto-Domo hitman doesnít seem to feel at ease, living
with†this incertainty. The past few months have given him much to think about.
Giro Prologue 2002. Photo by Celine Tytgadt.
Gazet Van Antwerpen: Youíre saying that you want to have a ďtrainĒ
like Petacchi and Cipollini. Werenít you the rider who took pride in the fact
that he could pull it off just fine on his own?
Robbie McEwen: Yeah, but Iím getting tired of having to fight for a
good wheel all the time, just to have to see that I lack just a bit on the
finish line. Especially Petacchi this season was s o strong in the last 50
metres that it was almost impossible to overtake him. Those guys are piloted to
the finish by their team in a way that nears perfection. If I want to start
winning some more again Iíll have to choose the same path. Eeckhout/Gardeyn, De
Clercq, Van Bon, Vierhouten, Van Dijk and Vogels: thatís the ideal line-up. Iíve
been pleading with the team management for a while now to attract Henk Vogels.
My fellow Aussie is the perfect lead-out man for the last 600 metres.
GVA: Is that the only reason for the many near misses youíve had this
RM: Itís a mix of a few reasons. The luck I had last year left me this
year; I didnít start in as good shape as last year in many races due to illness, injuries and crashes; and I made a few mistakes in composing my season
program. I tried to make 2003 an exact copy of last season, but I forgot to
listen to the signals my body was giving me. Which I always used to do in the
GVA: Some people are nevertheless claiming that itís due to your
professional focus not being all that.
RM: Whatever. I know that I give myself a hundred percent in my
profession. Dwars door Vlaanderen, 2 Giro stages and one Tour of Switzerland
stage are still nice results, wouldnít you agree? I canít help it that many
people think my season is won or lost in the Tour alone. Iím not satisfied with
my season so far myself, but if Iíd won that sprint on the Champs Elysťes, no
one would be criticizing me like this.
GVA: Did it hurt to have to pass on that 2002 green jersey to a fellow
RM: Not really, it was rather the fact that I lost the jersey once
again that got to me. If it had happened in complete honesty and fairness it
would have been much easier to let go too, but now...Iíve seen that sprint again
a few times by now; I made one mistake, and Cooke two. Baden and I had been
ďhangingĒ a few times earlier already in the Tour, sprinting on a straight line
between the two of us seemed to have become impossible. But the frustrations are
gone now. I would have found it a lot more difficult to swallow if it had been
Zabel who had swooped the green.
GVA: Zabel again. What in heavenís name is it between you two?
RM: (Thin smile) We just donít get along well, thatís all.
GVA: Zabel said you were riding unfairly during the race and acted
arrogantly afterwards at the World Championships in Zolder. Quite a few people
agreed with him too. And a few months before that you told Lance Armstrong to
shut his hole or youíd put your fist in it. Youíre not gonna end up with many
friends in the peloton that way.
RM: FriendsÖteammates are all a sprinter needs to win. But of course I
care about what people think about me. I 've tr ied to keep the stronger words
to myself since last year, because of the commotion it seemed to cause back
then. I make sure that I donít stop right after the finish line anymore either;
instead I go straight to the team coach to think things over first. The
adrenaline tends to make you say things that you better keep to yourself.
GVA: Why is that Lotto-Domo is collectively failing this season?
RM: Van Petegem and I have more or less lived up to our contracts. The
other guys whose job it was to provide UCI points let us down. Ill, out of
shape, on a bad time, a flood of injuries; there was always something the
GVA: The team is making a free fall on the UCI ranking, both as a team
and individually. Itís not very unlikely that youíll have to beg for a wildcard
RM: Iím pretty confident that the door to the classics will remain
open, thanks to Van Petegemís exploits this season. The Tour will be a different
GVA: Watching TV in July. Can you even imagine that?
RM: (Laughs) Without any difficulties. During and right after the Tour
I mostly canít care less for returning next year. The appetite for that race
only stirs up during the spring classics.†I can only hope that the Tourís start
in LiŤge next year will inspire Jean-Marie Leblanc to invite Lotto-Domo. After
all , weíre kind of the Red Devils of Belgian cycling. (Note: Red Devils is the
nickname for the Belgian national football team.)
GVA: A full-blood Aussie who counts himself in with the Red Devils,
thereís a strange sight.
RM: Apparently Belgium isnít having the greatest generation of riders
at the moment, and because of that you made me half Flemish. I find that
amusing. (Note: McEwen is referring to the fact that the Belgian media indeed
focused on him during the Tour as if he were a Belgian rider, because he was
about the closest thing to a Belgian rider with chances of winning anything,
having lived here for a long time, riding for a Belgian team and speaking fluent
GVA: Does that ring true for the atmosphere in the team as well?†A
blind man could see that at least a part of the riders, team management and
personnel are on totally different wavelengths.
RM: What would you expect? Youíre not exactly collectively cheering
out of hap p iness at the starting line when results arenít coming along. But
itís not like weíre having a go at each other all the time either, eh.
GVA: What would you like to see changed at Lotto-Domo next year?
RM: Thereís absolutely a need for a climber, someone who can win
smaller stage races. Apart from that there should also be someone who can hang
on until late in the race in the classics, someone who can score points behind
the team leader. We canít keep sliding away on the UCI ranking like this.
GVA: When it comes to victories this year the bounty looks a bit
meagre. Six wins, an amount you already had reached in Líťtoile de BessŤges last
year. So youíve got something to prove yourself as well. Not to mention those
650 UCI points youíve still got to defend in the rest of the season.
RM: I wonít reach the amount I had last year, I can tell you that much
already. Iím losing the 240 points I scored in† Zolder for sure, Hamilton
is much too difficult for me, so I wonít be going there. Iíll have to ride
extremely well to reach some 500 points still. I just want to win a few more
races this season, where and when doesnít really matter.
GVA: So youíve still got the motivation, this far in the season?
RM: Last year there were those WCís in Zolder, that made it easier to
stay motivated. Donít get me wrong, Iím still very hopeful for the rest of the
season, but if I have to be really honest, Iíd have to say that Iím counting the
days that seperate me from my return to Australia. That countdown starts right
after the Tour for me. (Laughs) Other colleagues even start counting days from
the end of Paris-Nice!
GVA: Youíre living very nice ly here, on the flanks of the Parikeberg.
Your wife is local, you became a father here, and the biggest share of your fans
is Flemish too. Doesnít that bond with Australia loosen after living in Belgium
for 7 years?
RM:† I am and always will be a full-blood Australian, but I donít
think Iíll ever be able to cut loose from Belgium either. At the moment me and
Angelique are raising Ewan (16 months old) in English. When weíre off to
Australia later this year weíll start talking Dutch to him.† I hope I can
make my career as a pro rider last †for some 5 more years, and then I just want
some freedom. Iím not gonna sit around all day for the rest of my life, but I
want to be able to do what I want, rather than what I h a ve to. Angelique and I
talk about the future sometimes, but itís all a bit vague for now. Half a year
in Australia, half a year over here is what weíre thinking about so far.
GVA: To get back to you about that ďtrainĒ. If Lotto-Domo had
unlimited funds, whoíd be your ideal lead-out man?
RM: (Roars with laughter) Alessandro Petacchi! But Iíve got a feeling
he wonít like that idea much!
Source: Gazet Van Antwerpen, www.gva.be.
Thanks to Jans Janssens for the translation.