Sprinter Robbie McEwen may not be famed for his prowess in the mountains - he's known to pull a wheelie each year as the Tour de France passes its highest point - but he has been hailed a hero after his high-altitude training helped him resist poisonous fumes and save fellow passengers on a sailing trip that came close to turning into a disaster.
The 38-year-old former Katusha rider, who is due to race for Pegasus Sports next season, although that must be in doubt following the UCI’s decision not to grant the Australian team a Professional Continental license for 2011, was one of ten people, including two children, on board a yacht off Queensland’s Gold Coast.
The sailing trip was part of a charity weekend organised by McEwen’s friend Mat Rogers, who has played for Australia under both codes of rugby, and who was one of the passengers on the boat along with another rugby league international, Matthew Johns.
It is thought that plastic panels running along the side of the boat that had been put in place to provide protection from a storm had caused a vacuum that meant the poisonous carbon monoxide gas could not escape.
"There was a ladies lunch so a few of the boys decided to hop on a boat and head up the river to McLarens Landing to have time out before the big dinner that night,” Rogers explained to the Gold Coast website.
"A storm went through and we put up the covers but once it had passed we didn't think to open them up again. Suddenly, everything started getting strange.
"One of my friends said to me that he thought he had food poisoning and another had to sit down because his heart was racing so much.
"I even joked to one of them to stop yawning because he was making me sleepy.
"When someone collapsed, Robbie McEwen twigged immediately what was happening,” he added.
The website says, rather obliquely, that McEwen “has a history in identifying gas leaks in houses and cabins” and that he began to roll up the covers to allow the gas to escape and let air into the boat.
"I hate to think what would have happened if he hadn't been there because firstly he knew what was happening and, secondly, he does high-altitude training, so his blood is rich in red blood cells and he wasn't affected by the carbon monoxide,” explained Rogers.
"I made it through the dinner and then Matty Johns and I had to go to Gold Coast Hospital where they got us stabilised and our oxygen levels back to normal."
"The scary thing is how close it came to being a tragedy and if my telling this story alerts one person to the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning on boats, it will be worth it," he added.
Separate reports also indicate that McEwen, winner of three green jerseys in the Tour de France, also jumped into the ocean to assist Rogers in saving a man who had fallen overboard from the yacht as a result of inhaling the fumes.
According to an AFP report, Rogers said: "I saw the man walk around to the back of the boat and pass out and fall into the water.
"I think I was probably the only one who saw him fall overboard. I was just coming to my senses and jumped in which was probably a silly thing to do,” he continued.
"I ran through the boat and just dived in. Robbie (McEwen) tried to stop me because he knew I wasn't feeling any good and then he dived in after me.
"I just grabbed the guy and laid back in the water and waited for the boat to come back around and get us."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.