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The mouth that roared: McEwen challenges all comers

Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen is getting just about fed up with all this talk of Italian "super sprinter" Alessandro Petacchi - and the Lotto rider intends to do something about it. McEwen, the winner of the Tour de France green jersey for the highest-placed daily finisher in 2002, has lived in Belgium for most of his professional career and is valued as one of their own. But with that familiarity comes some pressure — for his own success, and for his appraisal of his main rivals. Petacchi, who in this year’s Giro D’Italia set a postwar record of nine stage wins in a single edition of

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By Agence France Press

Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen is getting just about fed up with all this talk of Italian “super sprinter” Alessandro Petacchi – and the Lotto rider intends to do something about it.

McEwen, the winner of the Tour de France green jersey for the highest-placed daily finisher in 2002, has lived in Belgium for most of his professional career and is valued as one of their own.

But with that familiarity comes some pressure — for his own success, and for his appraisal of his main rivals.

Petacchi, who in this year’s Giro D’Italia set a postwar record of nine stage wins in a single edition of the Giro, is the man of the moment, and for many sprinters will be a bete noire when the Tour’s first road stage begins on Sunday.

Too, there is the 23-year-old Belgian sprinter Tom Boonen (Quick Step), whom many consider the heir to the recently retired Belgian great Johan Museeuw, the former world champion who holds the record for the number of victories (11) in the tough World Cup series. The Belgian will approach his first Tour full of confidence after a season already rich with 13 victories.

However, McEwen intends to fight all comers in a bid to prove that when it comes to winning stages on the flat, he’s still one of the top dogs on cycling’s porch.

“Petacchi, Boonen, Boonen, Petacchi — why don’t you just throw (Erik) Zabel into the equation as well?” said the apparently miffed Australian as he was asked about his main rivals in this year’s race.

“I suppose it’s understandable – after his nine victories on the Giro, Petacchi will be the main favorite if it comes down to a sprint finish. But I’m certainly not worried about him. Even if he has a whole team dedicated to his cause, I know I can beat him.”

In the Tour, the battle for sprint supremacy is a question of speed, team support and experience. Last year, 25-year-old Baden Cooke (Fdjeux.com) held off his countryman McEwen by a whisker on the final stage to win the coveted green jersey that Erik Zabel once owned outright, winning the points classification six times consecutively.

McEwen certainly has the speed and the experience — however, the Queenslander comes up short when it comes to getting his team to lead him out for the final frantic dash for the finish line. As a result, he says, his green-jersey ambitions have been put on the back burner, with a stage win a lot more important to Lotto than having to battle the likes of Cooke all the way to Paris. That stage win will be his first priority, too.

“My aim is first to win a stage because the fight for the green jersey could come down to a lot of things,” he said. “If you miss a sprint or have a slight mechanical problem, or crash – as happened last year – you can forget all about it. If I manage to get a stage win, I’ll consider it a successful season. But it won’t be easy.”

To succeed, McEwen knows he will have to resort to his tried and trusted method of “borrowing” a rear wheel or two before unleashing his final sprint.

“The most important thing is to be at the front at the right time, because unlike the Giro, where you only have one wheel to take, at the Tour there will be three or four.”