A Quick Chat With Robbie McEwen
A few hours before the start of stage five of the 2011 Tour de France, Rob Arnold caught up with the triple winner of the green jersey Robbie McEwen. Here is a transcript of the chat that discusses the effects of the changes to the points classification regulations…
“There has become what I believe is a worrying trend for sprinters at the Tour along with every other race this year – the Giro, Tour de Suisse and a number of others – where there are less and less flat stages for sprinters. I suppose the organisers are trying to make the races more exciting and make every single day as spectacular as possible with technical and difficult finishes. But I get the impression that pure sprinters are being penalized by this approach.”
Having just driven the final few kilometers of the stage today, I can confirm that this appears to be the case again for stage five. It might be flat today but the finale is most funky and windy…
“I thought today should have been a sprint. Tomorrow is an uphill finish into Lisieux and then the next day to Châteauroux – okay, that’s totally flat and should end in a sprint but that’ll be the last one for a while. The route then goes down through the Massif Central and into the Pyrenees, that’s when breaks start to become more successful and it gets harder again. It’s just really, really tough for the sprinters.
“There have been a couple of good stages. Yesterday was an interesting final to watch but the thing is, the climbers get plenty of chances at the Tour down in the mountains – they’ve got the Pyrenees and the Alps and a few in between – and now they’re even picking out stages in Brittany to suit the climbers as well… the sprinters are the ones being disadvantaged by that.”
One thing they’ve changed for the sprinters is to create the one big intermediate sprint. That’s been quite fascinating early in the race. What have you made of the way these have been contested?
“I’ve seen a couple of them in the highlights – I don’t normally sit down and watch the race when it’s on live – and yes, it has definitely brought a different element to the competition. But mostly, you still see that a break gets up the road as usual, they take the majority of the points but at least there’s now a pretty animated sprint back in the peloton which then brings a bit of interest to those flatter stages – what they might call ‘boring’ stages. It brings a bit of interest. But I think it could be even more interesting.
“It’s not so much that it’s one sprint that changes it, but it’s the amount of points on the line. If they did two of those sprints with that many points on the line, then you’d have even more interest again.”
As a sprinter how would you feel about chasing that many points at a couple of intermediate sprints?
“I used to chase them three times sometimes in the middle of a stage, so going back to twice would be fairly normal. It’s just the fact that quite a lot of points are available that makes it interesting.
“I do think that, as the race goes on and they get down to the Massif Central, we’ll see an element of the green jersey competition really favoring a guy like Gilbert or even Thor with the way he’s going up hills because they can get rid of the other sprinters and still pick up a few points halfway through the stage and probably again at the finish.
“I’ve said it a few times in the lead-up to the race that Gilbert is my favorite for the green jersey, along with Rojas who climbs very well. And Thor because I think the competition now suits them even more than it did before. On a difficult day, you might have three or four up the road but the peloton might splinter and you’ll only have 80 guys in the front group… and most of the sprinters could be dropped so those guys could score big points halfway through the stage.
“The pure sprinters like Cavendish is right up against it because he’s hardly scored any points. There’s only been one flat finish and he was fifth.”
What did you make of the one sprint we have seen?
“Tyler had it under control. Going into the Tour, I didn’t think that he was 100 per cent on form but when you’ve got a team like that pulling you through… I’ve said that they’ve been cool, calm and collected and they came at the right time with Millar, Hushovd and Dean before Farrar and it was a textbook finish. Whereas Cav essentially out-thunk himself by letting Renshaw and Goss go and putting himself back into the mix. That put him in a bad position for the last corner and he got tangled up and that lost him any opportunity of going for the win.”
– By Rob Arnold