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Published: Tuesday July 10, 2007 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday July 7, 2013 MYT 10:43:07 AM

McEwen shows true grit

CANTERBURY: Even Robbie McEwen couldn't believe he could crash and recover to win the first stage of the Tour de France. 

With just 20km to go in the 203km trek between London and Canterbury, McEwen was forced to brake due to riders ahead, and was hit by a cyclist from behind – sending the Australian flying over his handlebars and onto the road. He cut open his right knee. 

“It's worth that pain to have a stage win in the Tour de France,” McEwen said after the 12th stage win of his Tour career. 

“This is definitely one of the best ever. After the crash, I hurt myself – hurt my wrist – but the boys brought me back. I still can't believe I won this stage.” 

McEwen found himself pushed to the back of the pack along with one of the British hopes, Mark Cavendish, who also fell. McEwen received no help from rival sprinters, aside from his team. 

Belgian rider Leif Hoste and his team-mates worked frantically to pull McEwen back. 

McEwen's comeback bore shades of the 2003 Tour, when Lance Armstrong tumbled on a climb to Luz-Ardiden after catching his handlebar on a spectator's bag. Like Armstrong, McEwen would prefer to lose to a better opponent than to bad luck. 

Shortly after McEwen crossed the line, two of his exhausted team-mates followed behind. 

One grabbed McEwen by the neck, pulled him over and – with the two sweaty riders face to face – unleashed a scream of joy that pierced England's still and summery air. The other one shouted “You did it boy!” 

“Thanks a lot,” a grinning McEwen replied, hardly able to catch his breath. 

“We rode completely flat out, flat out, to get him back,” team-mate Wim Vansevenant said. 

Zabel spoke for the rest of the Tour when calling McEwen “a problem (threat)” for other riders challenging for the sprinter's green jersey – won by McEwen three times. 

Overall, Saturday's prologue winner Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland kept the yellow jersey heading into yesterday’s second stage. Germany's Andreas Kloeden – runner-up to Armstrong in 2004 – was 13 seconds behind, with David Millar 21 seconds behind in third place, and holding the polka-dot jersey as best climber. – AP