Robbie McEwen wins the ninth stage at Guéret, but the Aussie leaves it awfully late as a two-man bre
There comes a moment on any stage where someone in the bunch – or more likely sitting in a team car not far behind them – makes a decision that their team should start chasing the break in front in order to set up a final bunch sprint. Whoever made that decision on today’s stage from St Lonard de Noblat, birthplace of Raymond Poulidor, to Guret had their calculations correct almost to the metre. The bunch caught the two-man escape party of Filippo Simeoni (Domina Vacanze) and I¤igo Landaluze (Euskaltel) just 60 metres from the finish on an uphill drag in Guret. Hoping they would be disputing the final sprint between them, the Italian and Spaniard suddenly found themselves swamped by faster and fresher riders far more expert in this kind of finish. Simeoni led out the sprint coming out of the final corner 250 metres from the line, and Landaluze went past him. But the Basque’s momentary sight of glory was brief. Robbie McEwen shot by on his right, taking advantage of a narrow gap the Basque had left alongside the barriers, with Stuart O’Grady coming through even faster on his wheel. On his other side Landaluze may have momentarily lost sight of the watery sun as the massive figure of Thor Hushovd blasted past. This trio threw themselves at the line and so close was it that none of them dared raise his arms. The photo showed that McEwen’s canny manoeuvring and ‘throw’ had won him the stage by a matter of centimetres from Hushovd and O’Grady. Less than half a wheel separated the trio. Another metre on and McEwen would have been third – it was well-judged. Grabbed by TV on the line, the ecstatic McEwen expressed his surprise at winning the stage taking into account the injuries he is still carrying after the pile-up at Angers. He also paid tribute to Landaluze and Simeoni, who lost in one of the worst possible ways. With 70 kilometres left their advantage was more than 10 minutes, but someone made that call to chase and ultimately the pair were just a handful of seconds away from the win.