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Australia’s Robbie McEwen survived the last mountain stage of the Tour de France on Thursday to remain the favorite to win the prestigious points competition.
The Lotto-Domo rider finished 109th in Le Grand Bornand, more than 35 minutes behind stage winner Lance Armstrong, but with none of his rivals scoring points he kept the green jersey for another day.
“On paper it looked as if it would be a really hard day but it turned out fine,” he said after the 204.5km stage through the Alps. “I got over the first climb with the main field and then we formed a gruppetto on the Col de la Madeleine and rode steady all the way to the finish.
McEwen said he was delighted when the early break went “because it meant I didn’t have to contest the intermediate sprint just before the climb of the Col du Glandon.”
“I don’t understand why the race organizers do that kind of thing to us,” he said. “It’s a day when the sprinters are just trying to survive, but with a sprint at the foot of a 23km climb they’re trying to kill us.”
McEwen has accumulated a total of 225 points so far in the Tour, 12 more than second-placed Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) who has 213 while Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) is third with 212 points.
To win the competition the Brisbane-born Australian will have to fight out every sprint to defend his lead. He admitted the green jersey will probably be decided on Sunday’s last stage to Paris, perhaps in the final sprint on the Champs-Elysees.
“I’m confident because I feel pretty good and I think I’m still sprinting fast. In this competition everything can change really quick and so I’m taking (it) day by day and sprint by sprint,” McEwen said.
“The green jersey will probably come down to the final sprint of the Tour because there are 35 points on the line to the winner, then 30, 26, 24 and so on.”
McEwen said he would be watching four riders: Hushovd, Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis), Zabel and Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner).
“As long as they’re not in the break in tomorrow’s stage, everything will be fine, and then we can sprint for whatever points are left at the finish,” he said.
Friday’s 18th stage, which takes the riders 166km from Annemasse-to Lons Le Saunier, is a relatively easy run ahead of Saturday’s time trial in Besancon.
McEwen won the points competition in 2002 and finished second to fellow Australian Baden Cooke last year after being beaten in the final sprint.