Australia finished the Worlds with two riders in the top six, but reckon that better luck would have
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Robbie McEwen and Stuart O’Grady were both right in contention for the World Road Championship in Salzburg on Sunday, but a moment’s hesitation by a rival rider and some blocking by the Spaniards in the final run to the line saw the pair finish fifth and sixth.
“A Swiss guy had set his line going into the corner and [Erik] Zabel came underneath him and surprised him and he tried to adjust his line and ended up losing a length,” explained McEwen. “Then he hesitated and suddenly (the gap was) 50 metres… and I’m looking at the guys riding away with the world title.
“It’s a shame because I won the sprint of the group easily and I could see the world title just up the street,” said McEwen. “We did a great race as a team and I rode exactly how I wanted to but that’s racing.”
O’Grady too was disappointed with the finale. “I think we rode a really good race and Robbie and I were both perched perfectly in position and the next minute somebody let the wheel go and that was that,” said a shattered O’Grady. “You can’t do much when guys let the wheel go in front of you. It’s a real bummer.”
Australian team manager Neil Stephens summed up the team’s feelings at the end of raced. “The Spaniards did a great move splitting the race, which was a perfectly legal tactic and if we had done it we’d be ‘high fiving’ each other, but unfortunately they caused the split that meant we couldn’t win and then they basically ran last (fourth) and second last (third) in that little group so it didn’t really work out for them either,” said Stephens.
“The leader of the team on the day was Stuey and he did everything right, riding a really aggressive race,” Stephens explained. “Then at the end Stuey recognised that he had played all his cards and that the fastest guy in a bunch kick would be Robbie so he switched roles to set up the most perfect scenario for us – one of the fastest riders in the world leading out arguably the fastest rider in the world. That combination, without the split in the race, would have seen Australia first and second across the line, but it didn’t work out that way and we’re all obviously pretty upset.”
McEwen concluded: “That’s racing and we’ll get over it. If we had a tiny bit of luck today I’d be standing on the podium in the world champion’s jersey but we can be satisfied with how we rode.”