It was an understandably emotional Robbie McEwen (Orica-GreenEdge) that walked up onto the podium to receive the Most Courageous rider jersey at the end of the Amgen Tour of California. After all, stage 8 in Los Angeles was the final race of a storied career that spanned 16 and a half seasons but the 39-year old had to get his jersey and move on, like all the other winners – tv time holds for everyone – so he waved and then took a bow to the delight of the crowd.
A few minutes later, McEwen met the press in his final press conference as a professional cyclist. The Australian will transition to become a technical advisor for the sprinters on the Orica GreenEdge team
“It’s a little bit surreal.” McEwen said.
“I thought crossing the line, that it would feel like suddenly ‘oh it’s finished’ but then I still had to do the presentation, I’m sitting at a press conference and it’s all still part of the job. I’m still going. It might just be when I get back to the hotel, there alone in the room, have a shower, sit down and have a cold beer and think ‘mmm alright’ or maybe when I don’t have to pack a suitcase to go away to the next race.”
“When the kids tell you we want to do this or whatever.” he continued, “Like last week, it was my son’s birthday and I bought his a fishing rod, and he said let’s go fishing now, I said sorry dad’s got to go to the airport and go to a race. So that will all change and that’s honestly something I’m looking forwards to.”
“I’ve had a great career, I have a lot of people to thank, I won’t do it by name because there are thousands of them, but anyone who has ever been involved in my career in a positive way or in a negative way, fan on the side of the road, organizer, teammates, fellow competitors, enemies on the road, I thank them all. I’ve had a fantastic run, just enjoyed it all, the pain and suffering too. I had a fantastic send-off at home in Australia, at the Tour Down Under, my last Australian race and I’ve had an equally fantastic send-off here at the Tour of California. So everyone who is here and made it possible, I really appreciate it. It’s probably a good race to pick as my last race because I suffered so badly this week so I don’t think I’m going to miss it for quite a while to come.” laughed McEwen who was dropped on the climbs.
McEwen also received a painting that reflected his career during the final ceremony. “It was just great to be a part of, I was really pleased to be included in the final celebrations on the podium and received that beautiful work of art that signifies my career, just have so many people thank me for riding my bike. What started as my hobby turned into my profession, these guys probably agree, it’s the biggest scam going, we get paid to ride our bikes and that’s what we love to do. It doesn’t get much better.”
His palmares of over 100 victories includes 12 stage wins and three green jerseys at the Tour de France and also 12 stage wins at the Giro d’Italia. What would he consider his top three moments? Surely one of them is winning on on the Champs Elysées.
“I’ve been asked this question quite a lot.” he replied.
“If I put it down to top three moments of wins, like really good moments on the bike then I’d say my first win at the Tour de France on the Champs Elysees in ’99, the first one it is very, very special. And then again, the one in ’07 when I won in Canterbury, crashed with 20 km to go, got back, I still don’t know how I made it to the front and then managed to sprint and win. I think the sort of holy grail for a sprinter, winning on the Champs Elysées in the green jersey.”
But McEwen remembers more than the victories. “But apart from the winning, I think it’s the coming through the hard times, the really though times when you for instance have a bad injury and you come back, you come through it, you rejoin the peloton, you find a good level again and you win a race and the dream continues. It’s not a moment but it’s part of the whole cyclist’s lifestyle, you live it, it’s not a hobby anymore, it’s a job, it’s a passion, you’re doing it 24×7 and you feel that’s going to be ripped away from you, but you make it back and you win again.”
“I was speaking from experience there, I broke my leg in 2009, managed to come back, I didn’t win any more Grand Tours stages after that but it was about taking my place in the peloton and winning another race, and managed that with support of a lot of people. That is something special to me.”
Speaking of the Tour de France, the questions turned to the abilities of Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) who had won five of the eight stages in California.
“Someone asked me about Peter Sagan the other day. What type of rider is he? One damn strong and damn fast.” McEwen said to laughter in the room. “He can climb, he can sprint and I honestly said you’re looking at a guy, I mean, he’s first Peter Sagan but he could be the next Laurent Jalabert or the next Sean Kelly, he’s that type of rider that can do it all. He’s a really young kid, he’s done a lot but he’s got a lot ahead of him too.”
Earlier in the press conference, Sagan had stated that he was focused on stage wins and not the green jersey at his first participation at the Tour de France in July this year.
McEwen continued, “You talked about the green jersey before, definitely a favorite for green, if you look at the way the competition is structured now with one intermediate sprint per day, I think last year Philippe Gilbert could have gone rider that he is. I think a guy like Peter and our own Matt Goss, they’re very suited to the green jersey competition so Cav is certainly not going to have it all his own way, although I would say at the moment he’s definitely still the dominant sprinter on the flat stages.”
At the end of the press conference and after one final round of applause for McEwen, Sagan who had been sitting on the dais, came over to hug McEwen.
Watch Sunrise to Sunset – Robbie McEwen, a video created by Orica-GreenEdge on his final day of racing