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Back 2019-10-24

Robbie McEwen Talks with ZippCast

ZippCast caught up with retired star sprinter Robbie McEwen of Australia at the recent UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire. Robbie, now a SRAM and Zipp ambassador, was in England helping to lead group road and gravel rides for SRAM. We talked with the three-time Tour de France green jersey winner (and 12 time stage winner) about his career and current trends in cycling.

On changes in road bike technology since he retired in 2012…

“What I see as one of the bigger changes in cycling, in general, is a crossover between disciplines, from road to gravel to mountain bike. There’s a lot more acceptance and less surprise when guys do it. It used to be, ‘Wow, this guy’s a mountain biker! Look at him go!’ Well, of course, he can ride a bike. What I’m loving seeing particularly is the cyclocross guys coming across to road having big success… (They bring) a mix of their sheer power, the engine they possess, but the skills that they’ve got that save them so much energy in the bunch.”

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Robbie leads a gravel group ride from the SRAM Studio at the recent UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire, England. Photo by JoJo Harper

On improving your riding skills and confidence on the bike…

“One thing is to go out riding with someone good and follow what they do, learn from them. See how they do it. Ask them questions. Watch the YouTube stuff and watch how guys do things. I like to watch the good mountain bikers, the way they’ll go on the downhill. They’ll set themselves up for the next corner. It’s the same with gravel. One really good way of improving your skills is to choose a section and do it over and over so you develop a certain skill on a certain piece of terrain. You just keep doing that in different situations.”

On tire widths and pressures now vs. when he was racing…

“To go back to when I started cycling when I was an amateur we were riding 19mm tires with 120 to 130psi. I don’t know how we kept it upright in the corners, to be honest! It was a rough ride. Then I graduated through the 21s then the 23s (mm wide tires). I rode on 23s through pretty much all of my pro career. It was only later on after I retired from racing that I go on 25s and loved them…. Then I got 28s!

“Now I ride a lot less pressure. If I was racing I would probably still only go to 100psi, maybe 105. But when I’m riding around just for comfort and handling, I’m riding around at no more than 90psi. I let them go down as much as 70.”

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Robbie, known for his tactical savvy and competitiveness during his highly successful pro career, now just loves riding his bike and enjoying meeting fellow cyclists. Photo by Jo Jo Harper

On missing pro cycling…

“There are two things I miss. They are called mechanics and soigneurs. The rest? Na!”

On preparing for sprint finishes during his pro career…

“I always looked in the racebook, memorized what was in the racebook and had that as my guide. I always knew it would be approximately this but be ready for it being slightly something different. I was always looking for an opportunity. I would look for things like the shape of the road… like a corner with maybe 150 meters to go, but you would not be able to see the finish yet. I was looking for that stuff quite a way out because if I got that opportunity I would try to anticipate. Riders often won’t go until they see the finish line, but you’re well within striking range of the finish line. I was always concentrating on the distance boards from the finish line. They’re deceivingly hard to read and keep an eye on while you’re in the middle of a heaving bunch at 60+km an hour setting up for the sprint.”

On succeeding in sprint finishes without a dedicated lead-out train…

“One of my biggest things was using my teammates to get me where I needed to be up to that wheel of the sprinter who had the best train… Get me on his wheel. We’d be up there sort of hovering, waiting for the right moment. There’d be a certain person in their train who swing off and the next one would go. The speed would ramp right up, that would the moment to go in and get the wheel because after that there’s no more moving. If you get in too early, it’s still going slow enough that others can get brought up and then smash in; you’re fighting over and over again, and you’ve already lost. You have to go for it, get it in one go, and that’s it.”

Learn more about Robbie at robbiemcewen.com or on Instagram @robbiemcewen.

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