Sympathy is not something Robbie McEwen is usually known to dish out to his rivals. On Thursday the Australian sprinter admitted he felt sorry for one of his main rivals at the Tour de France, Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi.
But in almost the same breath McEwen called for glorious sporting achievements to replace months of lurid headlines about doping in cycling.
Petacchi will not race the Tour de France this year to an Italian Olympic Commitee (CONI) decision relating to his positive test for asthma drug salbutamol during the Giro d'Italia.
The three-week Tour de France will be missing one of its star men for the bunch sprints which are likely to light up the race for a few days following Saturday's prologue, but McEwen is unfazed.
"There's plenty of other guys I still have to beat," McEwen said after passing his pre-race medical visit here Thursday.
Thoughts of winning a fourth green jersey for the points competition are certainly there, but McEwen has more pressing aims.
"Hopefully I can win a stage in the first week. It's important to get that first one on the board," he added.
"I don't see the green jersey as mine to defend. It's for everybody to go and win. I will see how I stand after the first week of racing. There's a big list of rivals - (Tom) Boonen, (Daniele) Bennati, (Thor) Hushovd, and (Oscar) Freire."
Petacchi did not race the Tour last year due to a knee injury.
This time the Italian speedster known as "Ale-Jet" is facing a one-year ban from CONI after returning a "non-negative" result for an unusually high level of salbutamol after the third of his five stage wins at the Giro.
McEwen said the Milram rider's absence wouldn't change much as far as racing goes, but he admitted he felt sorry for the Italian.
"Not being a doctor I don't know all the details about his test or how many nanogrammes were involved. All I know is that it's a shame for cycling, and for Petacchi," he told AFP.
"I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt."
On some of the more unsavoury stories about the sport recently, McEwen
added: "I'm not here to get into a discussion about doping. I'm here to race the Tour, and I'd rather see more headlines about sporting achievements than doping.
"We need to give a bit of credibility back to the sport, and to the race."
Petacchi's absence leaves McEwen, who has won 11 stages on the Tour including three apiece in his past two campaigns, still with a number of respected, and some up and coming, sprinters to deal with.
However the Aussie, on his 10th participation this year, feels he has the low down on most of them.
"You always know what the guys (rivals) are up to before the Tour, and I keep an eye on what they've done in the Dauphine Libere (stage race), the Tour of Switzerland and the national championships," he added.
"But even then it's hard to make judgements. It's not until you've done a few days of sprinting that you see who's on form and who's not."
© AFP 2007