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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Wizards of Oz take centre stage
By Matt Majendie

Bradley McGee
Prologue winner McGee is one of a number of Aussies flourishing
Forget their recent rugby slip-up to England, Australians just cannot stop winning.

World champions in both rugby and cricket, they even did the unthinkable this year of getting the better of England on the football field.

And now their sporting impact is beginning to be felt in earnest across the Channel where they are emerging as major players in the world of cycling.

Back in the Eighties, they had a solitary contender in Phil Anderson, who boasted a top-five finish in the Tour de France and led the way for a new breed from Down Under.

After him came Neil Stephens, who was an accomplished if unspectacular domestique in a series of Tours.

But now the roll call stretches even further - Stuart O'Grady, Robbie McEwen, Bradley McGee, Baden Cooke and Michael Rogers to name but a few.

Already this year McGee and Cooke have taken a stage win apiece, while McGee also boasts the race leader's yellow jersey.

AUSSIES IN THE 2003 TOUR
Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com)
Nick Gates (Lotto-Domo)
Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo)
Bradley McGee (FDJeux.com)
Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole)
Michael Rogers (Quickstep-Davitamon)
Matthew Wilson (FDJeux.com)

In fact, with McEwen currently wearing the leading points winner's green jersey and Cooke wearing the best young rider's white jersey, Australians are leading in three of the Tour's four classifications.

The Australian Institute of Sport, where the majority of the current crop were moulded, has played a major part, according to Rogers, who will ride his first Tour this year for Quick-Step Davitamon.

Rogers told this website: "I was at the institute at the same time as Baden. The facilities there were second to none and we had some great riders to push ourselves against.

"But the real reason lies with the fact that we have further to come to the Tour than anyone and feel we have something extra to prove to our folks back home.

"If there's anything us Aussies hate, it's coming out second best and that's becoming true all the time."

In O'Grady, McEwen and Cooke, Australia boast three of the best sprinters in the world, which is no surprise in a country where the majority of riders were nurtured on the track.

And Rogers, McGee and Cadel Evans, who was forced to pull out last month, are already being billed as future Tour winners.

O'Grady is in no doubt why Aussie riders are performing so well.

When we do things, we have to do them properly
Robbie McEwen

He said: "It's all about being a happy rider. It's great to have a load of Aussies on the continent especially as there were so few when I arrived in France.

"And despite not being in the same teams, us Aussies always stick together and that sense of camaraderie gives you the peace of mind to strive on."

This year sees a record seven Australians in the race, which could have been eight had Evans not withdrawn.

Perhaps the most likely to clinch glory come Paris this year is McEwen, who defends his green jersey this time around.

The Belgian-based antipodean said: "We've had a lot of guys there or thereabouts for a while that have just suddenly clicked.

"People mention the good weather, but that helps us with pretty much any sport.

"Let's just put it down to the Aussie mentality. When we do things, we have to do them properly."





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