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  Monday, 29 July, 2002, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
McEwen proves his point
Robbie McEwen
McEwen outclassed Zabel in this year's race
When Robbie McEwen quit the Giro d'Italia after two stage wins in May, he said he was saving himself for the Tour de France.

The Australian champion had beaten Mario Cipollini in both of his Giro successes, which were just the latest in a series of wins for the Lotto-Adecco rider in 2002.

In the absence of the Italian showman, McEwen started the Tour as the biggest threat to six-times green jersey winner Erik Zabel.

But the Tour and the Giro represent a different level.

Zabel's record meant few believed McEwen could stop the Telekom sprinter taking a record seventh title.

  McEwen factfile
DOB: 24.06.1972
Nationality: Australian
Team: Lotto-Adecco
Tour record: 1999 - Final stage victory, 2002 - Two stage victories, including Paris again, and green jersey

But the Australian proved himself the better of the German throughout the Tour.

He was one of only three men to take two stage wins, compared with Zabel's one.

Time and time again he also outsprinted the German for minor placings after breakaways had won stages.

Only once did Zabel really gain the upper hand - when his superior climbing ability set him up to take an intermediate sprint in between two Pyrennean mountains.

McEwen started his season at the Tour Down Under with a string of stage wins.

He also clinched the Australian national championship in January.

From there, he won regularly in the early-season races around southern Europe.

McEwen leads January's Tour Down Under
McEwen wore yellow in the Tour Down Under
But it was his Giro wins which suggested that at Lotto, the Australian had finally found a team that could harness his talents.

On Sunday, McEwen became only the third rider to win the Tour's final Parisian stage more than once.

His first triumph back in 1999 for the Dutch Rabobank team was followed by two leaner years and a nomadic existence as he exchanged teams and fell out with management.

Despite his 2002 successes he is likely to be on his way again in 2003, since Lotto is set to merge with Belgian rivals Domo - the team McEwen left acrimoniously at the end of last season.

But there will be no shortage of takers for a very rare sprinter, a man who does not seem to need the dedicated support of a team to lead him out in the fast finishes.

Usually, the top men are protected as they fight for position.

But McEwen spent the Tour and the Giro ducking and diving, and using his rivals for shelter before forcing himself through to the line.

That such a small man could manage such feats reflects his background as a BMX rider, where daredevil exploits and top class bike-handling are essential.

And, while McEwen is now 30, there should be more to come.

Cipollini and Zabel have proved that you can win well into your thirties.

And, if McEwen can find another team where he feels equally at home, he will surely follow suit.

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