Robbie McEwen hints at TDU retirement party, but leaves door open for 2012

Robbie McEwen is “95 percent sure” that this year will be his last among the pro ranks and hinted that the 2012 Tour Down Under could be a perfect way to bow out of the sport.

MUMBAI, India (VN) – At 38 years old, Robbie McEwen is “95 percent sure” that this year will be his last among the pro ranks and hinted that the 2012 Tour Down Under could be a perfect way to bow out of the sport.

Riding from Nashik to Mumbai
Robbie McEwen, left, chats with Malcolm Elliott during an unusual training ride on Saturday. | Andrew Hood Photo

McEwen also left the door open to continue racing next year, however, fueling speculation that the new GreenEDGE team set to debut next season could offer McEwen a chance to fulfill his dream of riding with an Australian-sponsored team in Europe.

“The idea was that this would be my last full season and maybe finish it off with the 2012 Tour Down Under,” McEwen said Friday. “That’s just an idea, we’ll have to see what opportunities are available. Nothing’s confirmed about my future right now.”

The two-time green jersey winner from the Tour de France was planning on bowing out of cycling with the arrival of what looked like to be the long sought-after arrival of an Australian-sponsored team. That dream dissolved last fall, when the ambitious Pegasus project collapsed after a late-hour exit of its main financial backer torpedoed the team’s ProTeam hopes.

RadioShack offered McEwen and veteran South African sprinter Robbie Hunter, who also moved over from Pegasus, a lifeline to compete in the sprints on the U.S.-registered team that traditionally has focused on the grand tours. McEwen and Hunter will give the squad an extra card to play all season long.

McEwen, who spoke to reporters Friday while racing in India this weekend in a pair of one-day races, also hinted he might keep racing next season if he had a solid offer from a team. When asked specifically about the GreenEDGE team, McEwen left the door open to race for one more season.

“I’m not 100 percent sure I really want to stop yet. I am 95-percent sure. It’s difficult to make that decision,” McEwen explained. “A lot can happen this season. If any team comes along and offers me a place for 2012, then that’s a possibility .… Right now, I want to take it month-by-month and just concentrate on racing to try to get some good results. Then we’ll see what opportunities there are.”

McEwen, who suffered through two injury-plagued seasons with Katusha in 2009-2010, is already off to a solid start of his 2011 campaign, notching six top-5s in 10 days of racing that also included a day in the leader’s jersey at the Tour Down Under.

He just missed victory in Friday’s Nashik road race in India, when he finished second to Italian up-and-comer Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale). He’s hoping to earn his first win since a stage at the Eneco Tour last August in Sunday’s 110km circuit course in downtown Mumbai.

McEwen says he’s focused on posting some strong results in the spring classics before looking too far ahead for the remainder of the 2011 season.

“When I get back to Europe, I’ll do Tour of Sardenia, Tirreno, Milan-San Remo and the Belgian classics to wrap up the first part of my season,” he explained. “I want to try to get ready for San Remo and have another crack at it. Races like Ghent-Wevelgem, Scheldeprijs, those are perfect for me. I’d take any of those, then it would make the whole season good.”

Regardless if he races or not next year, McEwen wants another run at the world title. He was second to Mario Cipollini back in 2002 in Zolder and hopes to be part of the Australian selection for the sprinter-friendly course in Denmark in late September.

“The worlds is a goal. I was not in Geelong last year and I’d really like to represent Australia this year. We have a number of guys who can be on the podium or win, including Renshaw, Haussler, who’s Australian now, Davis and Goss. We’d go with a gunning team,” he said. “I’d like to be a part of that. I think with my experience I could be a big player to help the team.”

One sure way to see McEwen racing next year would be if he won the world champion’s jersey on the streets of Copenhagen. It’s hard to imagine he’d hang up the cleats at next year’s Tour Down Under if he was sporting the rainbow stripes.