Australian cycling star Robbie McEwen retired today after the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California, concluding a 17-year professional career that saw him capture 12 Tour de France stage victories, three maillot verts, and two Australian national road championships.
The 39 year old from Brisbane started his love of cycling in the ranks of BMX, and grew to become one of the world's greatest sprinters at the peak of his career.
McEwen's success was not isolated to the Tour de France alone, with 12 stages at both the Giro d'Italia and Santos Tour Down Under to his name.
Despite several years of trying, he was never able to capture a stage in the third Grand Tour, the Vuelta a Espana. He did, however, finish second on four separate occasions.
"It's a little bit surreal," McEwen said as the notion of retiring hit him a few minutes after climbing off the bicycle competitively for the last time.
"Crossing the line I felt like, 'Oooh finished.' I'm still going. I just want to go back to the hotel, have a shower, sit down, have a cold beer and think, all right'.
"Maybe (it will hit me) when I don't have to pack a suitcase for the next race. That's something I'm honestly looking forward to. I've had a great career."
McEwen thanked fans, rivals, team-mates and even bitter enemies.
"I thank them all. I've had a fantastic run. I've enjoyed it all, the pain and suffering too.
"It started as my hobby, turned into my profession," McEwen said. "It's the biggest scam going, getting paid to ride our bicycles. It's what we love to do. It doesn't get much better."
McEwen's 2009 season came to an early end with a broken leg after an accident on the second stage of the Tour of Belgium, a spill he recovered from to reclaim a spot among the world's top-class riders.
"Apart from the winning, it's (most enjoyable) coming through the hard times, the really tough times when you've had a bad injury," McEwen said.
"You come through it and you rejoin the peloton, you find a good level again and the dream continues. It's not a moment but it's part of the whole cycle. It's part of the lifestyle. It's a passion.
"When you feel that's going to be ripped away from you and you win again, that is something special."
McEwen says he rates best his first Tour de France stage win on the Champs Elysees with Rabobank, along with his 2007 victory in Canterbury when he managed to recover from a crash in the final 20km not only to rejoin the peloton, but also put in one of his most devastating sprints to take the win.
And the one that got away?
"It would have great to win the World Championships - you get to wear the jersey all year. I came close in 2002 and close again 2006. If I could choose one race that I would've liked to have won that'd be it, but I'm certainly happy with what I've achieved."
McEwen will remain in cycling as a sprint consultant for his current team Orica-GreenEDGE.