Australian Michael Matthews has just missed out on a podium finish at his maiden Tour of Flanders, won by unfancied Italian Alberto Bettiol.
There was a lot of circularity about the retirement this week of one of Cycling’s hard men – our own Robbie McEwen.
He chose the final stage of the Tour of California as his swan song, with his GreenEDGE team nicknaming the stage ‘from sunrise to sunset [boulevard]’.
The end was unremarkable, with one of the world’s greatest sprinters failing to get in contention. However, the previous 17 years had been remarkable. While there are many highlights, he will be remembered for his results in cycling’s tour of tours – the Tour de France.
He competed 12 times for 12 stage wins and three green sprinter’s jerseys. A mark of the man is the calibre of sprinters he battled with and often conquered – most notably Erik Zabel and Thor Hushovd. He also had some great battles with his countrymen Baden Cooke and Stuart O’Grady.
He holds esteemed company in terms of his aggregate stage wins (12), a list which includes not only his old sparring partner Zabel but also Gino Bartali, Mario Cipollini and the legendary Spaniard, Miguel Indurain.
It is almost impossible to compare GC riders with sprinters, but it is fair to say that, behind Evans, McEwen is the outstanding road rider in the recent era of Australian cycling. Both men came from BMX and have worn the leader’s jersey in their respective categories in Paris.
Like Evans, Robbie was the trailblazer – the first Australian to take home the green jersey. Put simply, you cannot achieve more than that in this sport.
Robbie achieved more than those numbers, he achieved what every rider hopes for – to be remembered simultaneously as one of the sport’s hardest competitors, an innately aggressive sprinter (on and off the bike) and one of its best blokes.
When asked by SBS’s Anthony Tan what his greatest achievements were, he referred to not only the results but also the perennial battle that is pro-cycling. “Apart from the winning,” he said, “it’s coming through the hard times, the really tough times when you’ve had a bad injury. You come through it and you re-join the peloton, you find a good level again and the dream continues.
“It’s not a moment but it’s part of the whole cycle. It’s part of the lifestyle. It’s a passion. When you feel that’s going to be ripped away from you and you win again, that is something special.”
And as the sun was indeed setting on his career in Los Angeles and he was asked to reflect on it, he talked of another cycle that has led him back to where he came.
He recalled starting in Australia at the Institute of Sport, and then stints riding for European and American teams (he actually planned to retire last year when he was riding with RadioShack). However, he was so thankful to be finishing his career with an Australian team.
You get the sense that the two-time national champion loves his country. And we love him.