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McEwen ready for final battle of points contest

Robbie McEwen does not now have to be asked how he is feeling every year on the eve of the final Tour de France stage which brings the peloton into Paris. The 32-year-old Lotto rider, for the third year in a row, will ride around the chic quartiers surrounding the Champs Elysees knowing that at the end of the day he could pull on the green jersey for a second time since 2002. McEwen won the points classification's coveted prize two years ago before losing it on the final stage to Baden Cooke last year. This year, he will have to defend a small lead, of 11 points against Norwegian Thor

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By Justin Davis, Copyright Agence France Presse 2004

Robbie McEwen does not now have to be asked how he is feeling every year on the eve of the final Tour de France stage which brings the peloton into Paris.

The 32-year-old Lotto rider, for the third year in a row, will ride around the chic quartiers surrounding the Champs Elysees knowing that at the end of the day he could pull on the green jersey for a second time since 2002.

McEwen won the points classification’s coveted prize two years ago before losing it on the final stage to Baden Cooke last year. This year, he will have to defend a small lead, of 11 points against Norwegian Thor Hushovd going into Sunday’s 163 km ride from Montereau to the capital.

Having already won two stages on this year’s race, losing the green jersey might not be so painful. But having defended it so far, the man from Brisbane is not going to let it go so easily.

“The last three years have been the same for me – going into the last stage on the Champs Elysees fighting for the green jersey,” said McEwen, who in the years before Cooke and Hushovd came on the scene, was one of German Erik Zabel’s main green jersey rivals.

“I’ve got a small lead, and there will be a lot of pressure, but I’m used to it by now,” added McEwen.

McEwen’s task is complicated. If Hushovd wins the stage and claims the 35 bonus points at the finish, the Aussie will have to make sure he ends up among the top three to have any chance of keeping the jersey.

In the event of having equal points, it is decided by stage wins. McEwen leads Hushovd now, but on Sunday if the Norwegian champion – who won a stage last week – triumphs, then McEwen will have to be close to him on the line.

Any impending win for McEwen would hand Australia a welcome prize from this year’s race after what has been a mixed campaign.

A record total of ten Australians started, seven finished, and while Stuart O’Grady won a stage to add to McEwen’s two, arguably, it could have been much better.

Fdjeux.com, who last year had a brilliant Tour campaign with Brad McGee winning the prologue and Cooke winning a stage and the green jersey, have this year not been up to expectations.

Cooke has been practically absent from the top five in most of the bunch sprint finishes, and McGee pulled out of the race early because of a niggling back injury which left him in pain throughout.

O’Grady has seen his Tour campaign pan out not too badly. After enduring a torrid spring after his Cofidis team suspended all racing as they battled a doping affair, he came into the race fresh and ready to win.

The 30-year-old from Adelaide got involved in several escapes during the first week of mainly flat racing around Belgium and northern France, and it was from one of those that he gained his stage win, coming over the finish line ahead of adventurous Dane Jakob Piil, of CSC. With a welcome stage win in the bag, O’Grady’s time trial on Saturday was rode at a steady pace in a bid to keep some energy for a final stab at a second stage win. “I just rode about 80 percent of my maximum to keep a bit in the tank for tomorrow,” said O’Grady who ruled out going for the green jersey as he is too far off. “I think the green jersey’s a bit out of my reach. I think I’m just going to try and win the stage – that would be alright.”