It didn't come as a huge surprise, yet I must confess the news was still tinged with slight disappointment when RadioShack announced its Tour de France roster.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

It didn't come as a huge surprise, yet I must confess the news was still
tinged with slight disappointment when RadioShack announced its Tour de
France roster.

Missing from the strong list of mountain and
time-trial specialists was Robbie McEwen, so I guess at 39 years of age,
father-time has finally caught up with Australia's finest ever sprinter
- and arguably our greatest ever rider.

But rather than express
my disappointment I'd rather use this post to reflect on a magnificent
career, especially at Tour de France level.

On a personal level Robbie has provided years of personal joy, entertainment and triumph.

It
was 1997 when this excited fresh-faced Queenslander made his Tour debut
appearance in the orange colours of Rabobank and little did we realise
his potential as a world class sprinter.

His unheralded arrival
came in the after-glow of Phil Anderson's retirement and an era when
Aussie pro-cyclists were solely recognised for providing reliable
service to their respective trade teams.

Robbie was always
different and soon developed a brash, yet likeable nature appreciated by
members of the foreign electronic media and the press corps alike.

No matter the occasion or the timing, whether in victory or otherwise he always made himself available to SBS.

Although it took Robbie almost three Tours to break through for his maiden stage win on the Champs Elysees in 1999, when it finally arrived it heralded the start of a magnificent winning streak.


Whether it was through performing one-handed monos on the tops of the
highest climbs, or engaged in head-clashes with opponents in the frenzy
to the finish line, his exuberance brought a kind of freshness rarely
seen by an Australian on European roads.

Although it took Robbie
almost three Tours to break through for his maiden stage win on the
Champs Elysees in 1999, when it finally arrived it heralded the start of
a magnificent winning streak.

All up he can look back on conquering 12 stages and securing three Green Jerseys as the Tour's points winner.

Among
the highlights were his brilliant exchanges with the likes of Mario
Cipollini, Erik Zabel, Tom Steels, Tom Boonen, Baden Cooke and Stuart
O'Grady.

Such was the intense rivalry generated between Stuey and
Robbie, neither became close friends and neither exchanged Christmas
cards, yet both had the highest respect for each other as fellow
Australians and professional racers.

While Phil Anderson opened
doors for the modern-day "Aussie invasion", it was Robbie, through
television coverage, who showed exemplary diplomatic and presentation
skills.

And while Anderson is also rated one of Australia's
finest GC riders, it's Robbie who has enjoyed more podium success and
for that I applaud everything he has achieved for himself, his country
and his followers.

This year's Tour de France won't be the same without Robbie McEwen - that's a shame in itself.

He
won't receive the nostalgic farewell he probably deserves, so let's
hope the accolades are saved when he returns home for next January's
Tour Down Under.

It's the least we can do for an Aussie sporting legend.

Follow Mike Tomalaris on Twitter @miketomalaris