Los Angeles - Australian cycling star Robbie McEwen retired on Sunday after the final stage of the Tour of California, concluding a 17-year professional career saw him capture 12 Tour de France stage victories.
The 39-year-old from Brisbane was among the world's greatest sprinters at the peak of his career, which also saw him win 12 stages of both the Giro d'Italia and his homeland's Tour Down Under.
"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 - "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."
Among his favourite memories was the 2007 Tour de France opening stage to Canterbury when he crashed with 20 kilometers remaining but recovered to win the stage with a remarkable sprint to the finish line.