Super-cyclist Robbie McEwen’s wheels peddled fastest on the Champs-Élysées on the final stage of the Tour de France.
At his peak he was regarded as Australia’s best road race sprinter.
The first Australian to win the green sprinter’s jersey at the Tour de France in 2002, McEwen went on to win the coveted ‘Maillot Vert’ again in 2004 and 2006.
McEwen’s exploits will be celebrated at the 35th Induction and Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday 10th October 2019 when he is inducted as an Athlete Member of The Sport Australia Hall of Fame and receives one of the highest honours that can be bestowed in Australian sport.
“It’s a huge honour,” McEwen said from France where he is commentating the Tour de France to a global audience.
“It was an honour to be inducted into the Cycling Australia Hall of Fame, but to some extent maybe that was to be expected within Australian cycling. To be recognised at a national level by a Hall of Fame that takes into consideration all sports and what all Australian athletes have ever done is a huge, huge honour.”
McEwen won the silver medal at the world road cycling championships in 2002 and represented Australia at three Olympic Games but it was at the Tour de France that he earnt his fame and reputation as an aggressive, risk-taking rider with a tactical style that didn’t rely on help from lead-out riders.
In 12 appearances (from 1997 to 2010) at the Tour de France, he won 12 stages and wore the leader’s yellow jersey in 2004. His first win came at cycling’s most famous finish line in 1999.
“It was my third tour and I hadn’t won a stage,” McEwen recalls.
“I was battling away through my first two tours trying to crack a stage win in the sprints and coming close getting second and third placings. Coming into Paris I felt I was coming good. I’d gone through the depths of fatigue on the verge of thinking I was out of the race missing the time cut in the mountains and made it all the way to Paris. I felt I was coming home strong. I was still exhausted but on the roads in Paris I felt, I can win.”
Just as that thought flashed by, McEwen crashed and thought his chance had ended.
“I got tangled up… You don’t win after a crash. As we got along the Seine and in towards the centre of Paris you could spot the Eiffel Tower and you get goosebumps. You spot the Champs-Élysées, get the cobbles under your wheels and see the Arc de Triomphe and you get goosebumps on your goosebumps on your goosebumps.“
“When I came out of the last corner I was on Eric Zabel’s wheel and I opened the throttle and I felt like I was hovering above the cobbles… it felt smooth, it felt fast and I floated to the line. Then it suddenly dawned on me with 50m to go ‘I am going to win’ I had to snap myself out and say, concentrate, concentrate. I peddled all the way to the line before I busted out a salute.”
However, it wasn’t just on the roads of France and its most famous boulevard where McEwen excelled.
Growing up on the outskirts of Brisbane McEwen and his two brothers built BMX tracks in bushland adjacent to the family home. With one older and one younger brother McEwen says he was “pulled and pushed” by his siblings.
He credits his parents for his journey from BMX racer to Tour de France speedster.
“From my youngest sporting days, they were the ones facilitating and getting us involved in the sport. We couldn’t afford to travel around the world, but we certainly travelled all over Australia for BMX and that was the catalyst for my cycling career on the road. It was Mum and Dad that made it possible.”
His cycling career began in BMX where he won an Australian title before switching to road racing in 1990 at the age of 18. After four years moving between the regional, state and national levels of the sport, he joined the Australian Institute of Sport under renowned coach Heiko Salzwedel, where his sprinting prowess soon had him on the international stage.
Between 1996 and 2012, he rode for six professional teams – starting with the Dutch team Rabobank and finishing with the first and only Australian professional road race cycling team, GreenEDGE – and became a dominant presence at the two biggest three-week Grand Tours, the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, where he also won 12 stages.
McEwen won 115 major professional races and more than 200 in all – at least one a year from 1996 to 2011 – including eight European one-day races, two Australian road championships and four national criterium titles.
He was also highly respected for his bravery and resilience, never more so than when he won the first stage of the 2007 Tour de France in Canterbury, England, after sustaining knee and wrist injuries in a heavy crash along the way that would have seen most riders abandon the race, as he was forced to do a few days later.
At the end of his last race, the Tour of California in 2012, which he struggled to finish, the organisers presented him with a jersey for the most courageous rider as a symbol of not only his performance there but of his career.
McEwen was named Australian Cyclist of the Year in 2002 and was an inaugural inductee into the Cycling Australia Hall of Fame in 2015. In 2017 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to cycling at the national and international level as a competitor, coach, and advisor, and to the community.
McEwen will become the 19th cyclist across two centuries of Australian sporting excellence to enter The Sport Australia Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Dunc Grey and Sir Hubert Opperman OBE (1985), Phil Anderson OAM (2010), Kathy Watt OAM (2012) and the most recent inductee Brad McGee OAM (2017).
Chair of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Selection Committee Rob de Castella AO MBE says McEwen’s induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame provides an opportunity for us to retell and relive his incredible, inspiring and long career as one of our most outstanding cyclists ever.
“Robbie joins an illustrious groups of our country’s greatest achievers. His contribution extends beyond the roads of Paris and Europe, to every backyard and BMX track around the country. He demonstrates what is possible with talent, support and a huge amount of commitment and hard work. It’s an honour for us to acknowledge Robbie McEwen and welcome him into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame,” de Castella said.
Robbie McEwen will be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame on Australian sport’s “Night of Nights” – the 35th Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday 10th October at Palladium at Crown, Melbourne.
Established in 1985, The Sport Australia Hall of Fame exists to preserve and celebrate the history of Australian sport and to excite all Australians to achieve their potential both in sport and life.
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame plays a vital role in preserving and perpetuating Australia’s rich sporting heritage, whilst promoting the values of courage, sportsmanship, integrity, mateship, persistence, and excellence, all underpinned by generosity, modesty, pride and ambition.
Along with the seven new inductees, ‘The Don’ Award will be presented to the athlete who has most inspired the nation and the Scholarship and Mentor program recipients will be awarded. In addition, the 41st Legend of Australian sport will be celebrated.
The 35th Sport Australia Hall of Fame Annual Induction and Awards Gala Dinner
What: Australia’s most prestigious sporting awards ceremony
Date: Thursday 10th October 2019
Time: From 5:45pm (Media, VIP and Members) and 6:30pm (Guests)
Where: Palladium at Crown, Melbourne
Who: The largest collective gathering of Australian sporting greats and luminaries
– The Induction of seven new Australian sporting greats into The Sport Australia Hall of Fame
– Elevation of one Member as the 41st Legend of Australian Sport
– Naming of ‘The Don’ Award winner
– Presentation to 2019 recipients of the Scholarship and Mentoring Program awards
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame is determined to carry to Australians everywhere the symbol of excellence as represented by its 565 Members across all sports and genders. Membership of The Sport Australia Hall of Fame is the crowning achievement of a sporting career and represents the highest level of peer recognition for an individual’s contribution to his or her sport.