McEwen sets out sprinting stall

Robbie McEwen regained the Aussie road title at the weekend, and afterwards paid a lavish tribute to

Robbie McEwen regained the Aussie road title at the weekend, and afterwards paid a lavish tribute to
PICTURE BY TDWSPORT.COM The wine wasn't flowing, but Robbie McEwen could be forgiven for uncorking a couple of bottles of bubbly after claiming his second Australian national road race title in Echunga on Saturday, writes Justin Davis. The 32-year-old Tour de France green jersey winner attacked from the word go, and after a frenetic 182km race by Australian standards, he held on to claim another green, white and gold jersey with a little help from new Lotto-Davitamon team-mate Cadel Evans. Robert McLachlan finished in McEwen's slipstream, with former stair-climbing champion Paul Craike, of the Corratec team, in third. Defending champion Matthew Wilson and La Francaise des Jeux team-mate Baden Cooke were keeping themselves for the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, which begins tomorrow [Tuesday]. But for Cofidis' Olympic track champion Stuart O'Grady, there were no excuses. He finished in seventh having missed the break which came in the latter of the race's 13km laps and which gave McEwen and his group their crucial 20-second lead. Evans finished fourth having done well to split the bunch in the closing stages of the race to set up McEwen for the win - his fifth of the season already down under. "It's started off really well. It's my fifth win of the season, but the first big one. The Australian championship really means a lot to me - it just feels so good riding around in the jersey, so (I'll have to have) a new paint job for the bike, new jersey, new helmet - everything colour-coordinated so that I look the part for the year," said McEwen, who after becoming national champion in 2002 had his best ever season to date, notching up 22 victories, winning his first green jersey and claiming a Worlds silver medal. O'Grady, who last year moved up a grade in one-day races by winning the HEW Cyclassics Cup and placing third in Milan-San Remo, appeared to be suffering the effects of an early season wake-up call which could decide how he decides to perform this coming week. "It was pretty hard going out there, and hard to make up time once the break went," he told procycling. "There was nowhere to hide really. You just had to be quite aggressive and make sure you were in the front group. I just ran out of legs in the end." McLachlan, who only returned to racing two years ago having retired shortly after the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, confirmed it had been a hairy, but promise-filled experience. "I couldn't believe how fast it was," said McLachlan, who also finished runner-up last year. "The first 40-50km, it was just on. It felt like we were racing in Europe, not Australia." In the slightly descending home straight, McEwen's weathered sprinting legs left McLachlan no chance. But the adopted Belgian, who this year will have Evans for company, was quick to pay tribute to his new team-mate's efforts. "I was fortunate to have Cadel there," McEwen admitted. "The amount of work he put in on those last four laps was fantastic, all four of us worked really hard and that's the reason we got to the finish. "There were a lot of good riders out there, and a few dark horses. But in the end it comes down to who's got the legs and who dares to go out on the attack - so I had a go and put in absolutely everything. I hurt myself a lot today so we'll see if I recover in time for the Tour Down Under. But I don't care now. I've got the jersey, and I'm really happy to start the season like that."
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