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  Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 18:54 GMT 19:54 UK
McEwen: Fans nearly cost me victory
McEwen lifts his arms arming crossing the finishing line
McEwen finally got the better of his sprint rivals

Robbie McEwen has revealed he was nearly brought down by spectators in Reims en route to victory on stage three of the Tour de France.

The Australian national champion stormed to only his second ever Tour victory after holding off the threat of his major sprint rival Erik Zabel.

But the Lotto-Adecco rider said he had nearly been knocked down by a series of cardboard hands held by the spectators on the finish.

He told BBC Sport Online: "I was gearing up the sprint on the inside line and started getting hit by all these hands.

"For a moment I thought 'I don't have to worry about Zabel, I need to keep on my bike and avoid getting knocked down by all these hands'.


Sadly I won't see the yellow jersey this year but I'm going to enjoy being in green
Robbie McEwen

"So I pulled away from the side, into the middle and had enough to take first place."

The victory marked win number two of McEwen's Tour career. He triumphed on the Champs Elysee on the final stage of the 1999 Tour.

But the 30-year-old insisted the two wins carried equal merit.

He added: "The Champs Elysees win was very special as it was my first on the Tour but this one was just as nice.

"The feeling is different, that's for sure. My last win was not expected but this one was.

"Everyone was saying I was going to win a stage this year. All that remained was for me to deliver.

"I never doubted myself but was getting a little bit worried. I wanted to get a stage victory under my belt before the end of the first week and the horrors of the mountains. And, my God, it feels good."

The victory ended McEwen's tag as the nearly man of this year's Tour.

Erik Zabel puts on the yellow jersey
Zabel took yellow after the stage

On stage one he finished third and was pushed into second place in another bunch sprint by Oscar Freire on the second stage.

But on Tuesday, he had the perfect lead-in from his Lotto team-mates before nudging out Zabel.

He explained: "It wasn't easy as, when I looked back, I could see Erik was still there. So I made sure I kept my hands on the handlebars and waited to lift them in celebration until I was well and truly over the finishing line.

"And I have my team to thank for that. They rode a cracking race."

McEwen is currently in second place overall behind Zabel but warned that he and his team would fall well back behind the leading protagonists after Wednesday's team time trial.

The Australian, who will wear Zabel's green jersey for that stage while the German is still in yellow, confessed: "Sadly I won't see the yellow jersey this year but I'm going to enjoy being in green.

"We'll do our best and see how we come out of it."

Wednesday's fourth stage starts at 1315 BST, with live action on BBC Sport Online.

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Stage winner Robbie McEwen
"I am really pleased"
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