Australian Robbie McEwen's annual battle for the Tour de France green jersey has been delivered a blow before the start of next month's race -- by compatriot and Silence-Lotto team-mate Cadel Evans.
Evans became Australia's highest ever finisher on the Tour when he was runner-up to yellow jersey champion Alberto Contador of Spain in 2007.
Since Contador and his Astana team have not been invited back to this year's race, following a doping scandal involving ex-team members prior to a management shake-up, Evans now leads a small list of favourites ahead of recent Dauphiné Libéré champion Alejandro Valverde of Spain.
With the Belgian Silence team finally realising the yellow jersey is well within their grasp, the ambitions of McEwen, a regular stage winner and challenger for the points classification's green jersey, have been sidelined.
In essence, the former BMX rider from Brisbane has been pushed into the shade by the 31-year-old former mountain bike star from Northern Territory.
Instead of relying on team members to carry him in on their back wheels ahead of the hectic sprint finishes, McEwen will have to do it all by himself. But as agile as he is, the Belgium-based Aussie admits the lack of team support has all but scuppered his bid for the green jersey.
"If I happen to get it (green jersey) from getting good results in the sprints, then good, and I would try and defend it as best as I could," said McEwen after winning the third stage of the Tour of Switzerland Monday. "But I realise that with the composition of our team that I can't use up the whole team in a tactical chase because everyone needs to be saved just in case Cadel takes the yellow jersey.
"I haven't made a big goal of the green jersey," he added. "To win green, it does take a big effort."
After a season that has so far been hampered by crashes, McEwen claimed only his second win of the season Monday, beating former three-time world champion Oscar Freire in the process.
In the absence of a true lead-out 'train', the 35-year-old once more displayed his talent for jumping on and off wheels in his search for top end speed at the finish line. He admitted he may have found new uses for team-mates Leif Hoste and Greg Van Avermaet, both of whom proved very useful prior to his final dash on Monday.
"I'm happy when I get support like that from my teammates, it's even better when I can repay them," he added.
The only problem is that Van Avermaet will not be at the Tour - another disappointment for McEwen.
"I would have liked to see Greg in the Tour, physically and mentally he would be capable of it," he added. "But the decision was made a while ago, and of course with Cadel ... he's shown in the Dauphiné (finished second) that he's ready for the Tour and that's the choice that's been made and I've known that since the end of last year's Tour. That's something I've come to live with ...
"I'll have to be doing it on my own in the Tour," McEwen continued. "I don't have a specific lead-out man for the sprint, so I'm going to have to find my own way. Hopefully I'll try to treat the other sprint trains like my own train."
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008