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Australian Robbie McEwen will become one of the Tour de France’s all-timegreats if he wins a fourth stage in Paris on Sunday.
If McEwen wins the 144.5km 21st and final stage of the 3607km Tour onthe Champs Élysées, he will be only the 14th rider – andseventh sprinter – in the post-war era to win four or more stages on theone Tour.
“He would be a hero,” said McEwen’s Davitamon-Lotto team manager, HendrikRedant. “To win four stages in one Tour is amazing. There are not a lotof guys except those like Eddy Merckx. It will be really, really special.”
Merckx, who won the Tour de France five times and was nicknamed “TheCannibal” for his insatiable winning appetite, captured six stages in 1969,eight in 1970, four in 1971, six in 1972 and eight in 1974.
The last rider to achieve four or more stage wins was American LanceArmstrong (Discovery Channel), who is poised to claim his record seventhoverall victory tonight. Armstrong, who holds a 2min46sec lead, won fivestages last year and four in 2002.
The last sprinter to achieve the feat was Italian Mario Cipollini (fourin 1999), after Tom Steels (four in 1998), Dutchman Jean-Paul Van Poppel(four in 1988), Belgians Freddy Maertens (five in 1981, eight in 1976)and Rik Van Loy (four in 1963), and Frenchman Andre Darrigade (four in1961, five in 1958).
McEwen is the favorite for Sunday’s stage from Corbeil-Essonnes, southof Paris to the Champs Élysées, which traditionally endsin a bunch sprint.
The Queenslander has only an outside chance of winning the sprinters’green points jersey he won last year and in 2002. A win in Paris and extremelypoor finishes on the final stage by green jersey wearer Thor Hushovd (CreditAgricole) and South Australia’s second placed Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis)could turn the tables in his favor.
McEwen’s hopes of winning a third green jersey received a massive setbackon stage3 when he head-butted O’Grady and was relegated to last place afterfinishing second across the line, costing him 30 points.
Since then, McEwen has focused instead on winning stages – at Montargis(stage 5), Karlsruhe (stage 7) and Montpellier (stage 13). Also on hisside is the experience of twice winning on the Champs Élysées(1999 and 2002).
The Paris stage is a hard sprint to judge, being on cobblestones andinvolving a deceptive right-hand bend 400m from the finish.
“I’m just trying to get to Paris,” McEwen said. “It’s a prestigiousstage being on the Champs. That is what is keeping me in the race at themoment. I am not in the race for the green jersey.”
In the last road stage – before Saturday’s time trial at St Etienne– McEwen was in strong form.
On the 153.5km 19th stage into Le Puy en Velay when he won the sprintfor 14th place from Hushovd, O’Grady and Australian Allan Davis (Liberty-Seguros)in a bunch behind Italian winner Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile).
Meanwhile, O’Grady had virtually conceded Hushovd will win the green,as his Cofidis team is focusing its energy on trying to win the final stage.
O’Grady’s teammate, Matt White said the team wanted to get O’Grady acrossthe line to “finish on a winning note.”
While realizing the green jersey is possible, he said, “we want thestage win, anything else would only be a bonus.”
Long-time VeloNews contributor Rupert Guinness is a staff writer at Australia’s Daily Telegraph.