'Cav' takes wind out of McEwen sails
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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

'Cav' takes wind out of McEwen sails

by Agence France-Presse at 8:49 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
 
Robbie McEwen's bid to add to his impressive haul of wins on the Tour de France was kicked into touch by bad luck and a fast Columbia train on the longest stage of the race here Wednesday.

A push from one of the other riders in the peloton put the Aussie into a headwind at a crucial moment as the sprinters began to wind up their final drive for the line on the 232km stage. And that left the 34-year-old McEwen out of the game, finishing eighth behind stage winner Mark Cavendish of Britain.

McEwen, a 12-time stage winner on the race and a green jersey champion three times, will live to fight another day. But with the mountains up ahead, the Silence-Lotto sprinter will now have to wait till next week. "At about 300 metres from the finish I was coming in and then I got pushed, which put me right into a headwind," said McEwen.

"I tried to get back into the bunch but by then it was too late." He added: "It's a bit disappointing but there will be other chances."

McEwen's teammate Cadel Evans had a relatively easy day in the saddle ahead of the first climbing challenge - Thursday's sixth stage towards Super-Besse in the Massif Central where second-placed Kim Kirchen, who has a nine-second lead on Evans, could take the yellow jersey from Germany's Stefan Schumacher.

However it is debatable whether McEwen will easily digest a show of pure power, albeit assisted by his disciplined Columbia team, from Cavendish that delighted team manager Alain Peiper. "This kid's probably the fastest thing that's come along in the last 15 years, and he's only 23 years old," gushed Australian former pro Peiper. "He's world champion on the track, he won 11 victories last year this year was the confirmation, I don't understand how anybody could doubt his speed now."

The versatile rider from the Isle of Man is, for many observers, the new McEwen. They both have attitude, and are known not to take any nonsense when there's a win, prestigious or not, at stake.

But Peiper, when asked to compare the two, told AFP: "He (Cavendish) is unique. He's unique in his grunt and he's unique in the way he can hold his self-confidence in all circumstances. "He's different from Robbie."

Cavendish, who won twice at last month's Giro d'Italia, was led through the finale by German Gerald Ciolek before putting in a final burst to cross ahead of Spaniard Oscar Freire.

"It's the biggest thing to have happened to me and it means so much," said Cavendish, a world madison champion in track who will compete in the endurance event in the Olympics. "I'm only 23 and I came here to win a stage and that is what I have done."

Germany's Erik Zabel came third, with Hushovd - the winner of the second stage - finishing fourth and taking the green jersey from Kirchen.

Hushovd, who won the green jersey two years ago, now has a three-point lead over Freire in the points competition. "I've won a stage here and now I can concentrate on the green jersey. That's my main aim in Paris, although I would still like to win a stage or two," said the Norwegian, who had a quick compliment for Cavendish. "He's a big talent and he's fast. Today he was the strongest."

Cavendish, meanwhile, was full of praise for both himself and his team. "When you have a team like I have, it's impossible not to be the best (sprinter)," he said. "That was my aim, to come here and win a stage and now I'm glad I can come here and pay the team back."

Thursday's finish suits Kirchen perfectly, but Evans, and Alejandro Valverde, who survived a crash on the fifth stage, are sure to be keeping the Team Columbia rider company.

Silence-Lotto manager Marc Sergeant said it would suit them if Kirchen took the jersey: "It doesn't change a thing for us. But I think Kirchen has shown he's in good form. "His result in the time trial surprised me a bit. But we can't forget he finished seventh overall last year. It's the first time I've seen him so strong." He added: "Cadel is very relaxed, as he has been since the start of the Tour. Yestereday he did a good time trial, and it's given him confidence."
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