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Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen battled the pain of tendinitis in his left knee and the many climbs on the longest stage of the 2004 Tour de France on Wednesday to maintain his lead in the points classification.
The Lotto-Domo rider, injured in a crash on Friday but strong enough to win Tuesday’s stage, said the 237km slog to St Flour had tested his stamina and willpower. McEwen trailed in 164th, over 25 minutes behind 10th stage winner Richard Virenque (Quick Step).
“This was the hardest day of the Tour for me and I’m glad it’s over,” he said after almost six-and-a-half hours of racing in which he kept the green jersey, awarded to the most consistent finisher of the Tour.
“This kind of stage with all the climbing and the winding roads is not my type of day and never was going to be. I wasn’t trying to fight to stay in the front group or get a result today, I was just trying to finish and get the stage out of the way.”
McEwen, who has been receiving intensive treatment on his knee, struggled to train with his teammates on Monday’s rest day.
Three hours of massage and stretching got him back in the saddle but the Brisbane-born rider is aware that he faces a physical examination in the Pyrénées.
“My knee’s still sore but fortunately it didn’t really affect me today,” he said. “The problems could come in the Pyrénées at the weekend. I don’t know how my knee will handle all the climbing. I usually make it through by finishing in the main bunch of riders, but with an injury it’s going to be even harder.
“I hope my experience of suffering will help me survive.”