MUMBAI, India (VN) – Robbie McEwen and Robbie Hunter – aka the “Two Robbies” – delivered a big thank you to RadioShack with top racing over the weekend in a pair of one-day races in India. McEwen ran second in Friday’s Nashik race while Hunter relegated Italian sensation and Friday’s winner Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) to second in Sunday’s 11-lap circuit course in Mumbai to send a thank-you victory to their new RadioShack bosses.
“It’s not a big race, but it’s always nice to win,” Hunter said at the line in Mumbai. “It’s really good to get the win. Even though it’s not the biggest race in the world, we can repay the guys for their faith in us. To win is to the best way to thanks.”
McEwen and Hunter were looking at unemployment and possible retirement after the Pegasus project folded in December, but RadioShack offered a lifeline by signing them for the 2011 season. The thankful pair showed their gratitude with some hot results in India and fought through a pair of punctures Sunday to deliver the win with Hunter.
“With the whole Pegasus going down, with Robbie and myself looking for jobs a week before Christmas, that wasn’t a good thing. It’s a bit disappointing because there are another 20 guys right now who are without jobs,” Hunter said. “It makes it easier for Robbie and me because we can win races. It’s a huge thanks to Johan Bruyneel and Alain (Gallopin) for bringing us across.”
Sunday’s win was the second of the season for RadioShack and the first for Hunter since he took two stages in the Vuelta a Murcia last March.
Sunday’s plan was to ride for McEwen, but the veteran Aussie punctured coming down a bridge section of the 11-lap, 7.2km circuit course with less than 2km to go to the line. There was no time to change a wheel, but unknown to McEwen, Hunter had also sprung a leak with three laps to here.
“We actually both punctured. He won the race on a half-flat tire. When I was coming off the bridge with about a kilometer and half to go, I felt it was half-gone, but as I got across the bridge, my rim was hitting the road. I couldn’t pedal without my bike just fish-tailing,” McEwen said. “Just as I was about to tell Rob – I saw him bouncing on his (wheel) – he turned around and said, ‘I’ve got a flat!’ I said you have more air than I have, so go for it. Mine was totally gone, but it was too late to change a wheel and get back, it was never going to happen. We were coming down the bridge at full speed, so I told Robbie, you’ve got to sprint on yours because mine is gone.”
The win was a boon for Hunter, who is keen to prove he can win sprints against young guns like Viviani and was more than happy to take the flowers. The 33-year-old South African let out a huge scream across the line after he nipped Viviani. A slow-leak with three laps to go wasn’t going to stop Hunter.
“I was running a bit flat, but I am not going to complain because I won it anyway. It was from about with three laps to go, I could feel it going over the small speed bumps and it would run down to the rim, but there was enough air in there to keep going,” Hunter said. “It was a really slow leak. Coming into the finish, I was telling Robbie to go, he said, No! My wheel’s down! I’ve got more air than he does, so I will give it a bash.”
Sunday’s raced capped a wild ride in India with two races over three days.
Liquigas-Cannondale and RadioShack were the top teams among the 100-rider field trekking to India and it was no surprise that the two ProTeam squads took the flowers.
The field didn’t make it easy on them Sunday. A nine-man breakaway peeled off the front midway to build a one-minute gap with two laps to go, forcing Liquigas and RadioShack to collaborate to chase it back on the final lap to set up the mass gallop.
Organizers are hoping to expand the race next season to three days with an eye on the future that might include a larger stage race and perhaps even a place on the world tour calendar.
Everyone agrees that bike racing in India will be a formidable challenge in a nation of more than 1 billion people, most of whom have never seen a bike race in their lives and whom view the bike as a poor man’s means of transport.
Officials are hoping to use the races to change that perception, but the challenges of curry-flavored racing will provide were on display during Sunday’s race.
Organizers were forced to restart the race after crowd control issues on the first lap. Photographers unfamiliar with bike racing protocol were lying on the course and partially obstructing a 180-degree turn while an amateur biker found himself suddenly riding among the pros just as they were ramping up their speed on the first lap.
A Liquigas rider accidentally ran into the panicked fan, provoking a crash in the bunch that sent American Bjorn Seelander from RadioShack to the deck. Seelander was not seriously injured and was able to finish the race, but the crash prompted the peloton’s leaders to act.
Hunter, McEwen and Jaan Kirsipuu conferred with race director David McQuaid and everyone quickly agreed to restart the race in order to give officials a chance to sweep the course once more.
Officials also eliminated a technical section of the course that turned into a poverty-stricken neighborhood after riders voiced concerns about a lack of race marshals and police on that part of the route.
After about an hour delay, riders were after the race without incident.
“There were some unaccredited photographers lying down on the ground with their bags laying all about, and there were still some people from the recreational ride who got stuck on the bridge. One of them was suddenly riding along the road in mid-bunch, so we just said, OK, let’s stop, start over, and make it right,” McEwen said. “With the changes they made, there were no problems. They took out that little loop on the edge of town, because there didn’t seem to have enough personnel to keep everything open and free, so they decided to err on the side of caution, which is good and nice.”
Results, Tour de Mumbai
1. Robert Hunter (RSA), RadioShack
2. Elia Viviani (Ita,) Liquigas-Cannondale
3. Jonathan McEvoy (GBr), Motorpoint
4. Ian Wilkinson (GBr), Endura Racing
5. Ian Bibby (GBr), Motorpoint
Best rider over two races
1. Elia Viviani (Ita), Liquigas-Cannondale