Memories of Green: A Tribute to Robbie McEwen
It seems that for as long as I’ve been into cycling, there’s been a Robbie McEwen. I suspect to almost all of us he has become part of the furniture, that cheeky smile and distinctive voice. Now on the eve of his retirement from professional racing, Bicycling Australia travelled to Café Piccolo, McEwen’s café on the Gold Coast, to discuss his career one on one. Such is McEwen’s easygoing personality we came out several hours later with over 10,000 words, a wonderful insight to a wonderful career. Here’s the first part…
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I met Robbie McEwen. I had been editor of Bicycling Australia for exactly 10 days and had been sent to the Tour Down Under to get to know some people.
In for a penny in for a pound they say, so one of the first people I went up to was Robbie McEwen to introduce myself. And with Robbie’s reputation I don’t mind saying that I was a little nervous. So, like Dicky Knee going up to Darryl Summers I said, “G’day Mr McEwen, I’m Simon, the new Bicycling Australia editor”. And while he could have said anything, Robbie shook my hand and said “G’day mate, welcome to the Nut House. Good luck with it.”
Since that day, I’ve admired Robbie not just as a cyclist, but as a genuine person. I’m going to go on the record and say that over the past five years I’ve had nothing but courtesy and friendliness from him. I suspect that this is the same for most people who have had any dealings with Robbie McEwen. Although he does have a reputation as a bit of a mouth, it seems to me that people go looking for it rather than it just happening.
“People often make that assumption,” says McEwen. “If you ask me how I deal with them, well then, I don’t deal with them. If they make assumptions, well whatever. I have had people assume that if they come up and say hello I’m going to punch them in the face or something. I’m not like that at all.
I’ve had all sorts of things written about be, like I’m going to do something violent or bite someone’s head off. I just take it as though they’re taking an easy way out to begin a story. In the media you get labelled very quickly. I’ll readily admit I can be feisty, but it depends what’s going on. And the first time many people see you is just after a race and something might have gone wrong or you might have won and you’ve got a bit of a strut going. But the most common time is when someone asks you a stupid question, and what you really want to say is, “You’re a f*** idiot,” (laughing). That’s what you really want to say, but of course you don’t, so you just give some comment, or something. I’ve used that one though (laughing again). I made someone stop once, I’m trying to remember who it was, it might have been Mike Tomalaris, maybe, or someone else anyway, they said something so stupid that I said, “Stop. That was a really stupid question, do you want to start again?” (Laughs again)
Other times you might be at a press conference that the MC will say, “any questions?” and there’ll be someone who shoots their hand up just to be first and complete drivel comes out of their mouth. I’ve had that a couple of times. So pretty quickly you get labelled as short tempered or whatever. And I can be, but it depends on the situation.
Bicycling Australia: In your book you talked about a couple of journos who really did you a bad turn.
Robbie thinks for a minute before replying, “Mmmm…one Belgian guy and one Dutch. You see, you are what they make you and those guys, they just run away with things because they knew that a nice positive or diplomatic story isn’t going to cut it and they aren’t going to get their column space. So if they haven’t got an angle they’ll make one up. Or if they see a small angle they’ll say well that’s the way it was going and they’ll take the journey for you.”
BA: “It was implied.”