McEwen sees Evans rival striking first Tour blow
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Thursday, July 3, 2008

McEwen sees Evans rival striking first Tour blow

by Agence France-Presse at 8:05 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France

by Justin Davis
In terms of team bonding, Aussie sprinter Robbie McEwen has done little to curry favour with team-mate Cadel Evans ahead of the Tour de France opener here Saturday.

   But given the bigger prize on offer at the end of the three-week race, Evans is likely to forgive McEwen for picking his yellow jersey rival Alejandro Valverde of Spain as the man who could land the first blow in the race.

   For the first time since 1967, the Tour will not feature a prologue time trial, usually held under the distance of 8km on the opening stage.

   Organisers have instead concocted a 197.5km ride from here to Plumelec over undulating terrain which features a technical finish and ends on a "very difficult climb", in the words of McEwen.

   Valverde is the man most likely to be challenging Evans for the yellow jersey in the crucial mountain stages and time trials, but McEwen believes the Spaniard might not wait long before trying to strike a blow.

   "The first stage is very, very difficult," McEwen told AFP here Thursday, recalling the last time the race finished just after the tricky, 1.7km Cadoudal climb.

   "I raced this stage finish before, on my first Tour in 1997 when I was caught behind a huge crash just before the final climb. It blocked the whole road and there was 20 guys in front.

   "When I actually got there and saw the hill, I thought, 'jeez what was I fighting (to get to the front) for'? It's hard, in fact it's bloody hard.

   "When it starts to climb, the further it goes the steeper it gets. It levels off at about five percent (gradient) then kicks up to about eight percent just before the corner.

   "At the top you've got a right hand hairpin. In any finish, on top of a two-kilometre climb, that's going to sap your strength - then about 400 metres to the finish.

   "If I was a betting man, I'd put money on a guy like Valverde. Someone who can punch away at about 400 or 600 metres to go and hold everyone off."

   Valverde is considered one of the best 'punchers' in the business, using his speed on the steep climbs to win such classics as Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which he has now won twice, including this year.

   McEwen meanwhile has a new challenge of going for sprint stage wins without the support of most of his Silence team, all of whom have been ordered to keep their energy for helping Evans.

   The 34-year-old Aussie will now likely aim for victory on the second and third stages to nail down one of his main aims.

   But as well as lacking the support for the crucial lead-out to the finish line, McEwen knows he's up against some stiff opposition in the likes of Norway's reigning green jersey champion Thor Hushovd.

   Up and coming Briton Mark Cavendish, who emerged from the Giro d'Italia with two stage wins, is also ambitious but McEwen will be watching the young Manxman for signs of fatigue.

   "Mark had a very good debut season last year and he's progressed a lot this year, with his wins in the Giro. Winning big stages on the big Tours is very important for a young rider," added McEwen.

   "But then again, the Tour is another race and you've got to be able do it here too. To see how he goes, after finishing the Giro, will be interesting.

   "It's hard to know as a young guy how you're going to recover. It's possible to come here and be great over the first five or six days, and then just lose all your form."


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