HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Fabian Cancellara came to Harelbeke wearing race number one, as the defending champion and winner of the last two editions. Five hours later he left disappointed, wondering what had happened, and why.
A streak of bad luck fell upon the RadioShack leader, including two crashes and three mechanicals. Cancellara went down in a crash early, inside the first 40km, but was not hurt. About 25km later, after a bike change and prior to the first cobbled climb of the Kappelmuur, he had a puncture and took a wheel change. Another bike change came inside 70km to go.
However the worst incident happened atop the Kwaremont climb with 34km remaining. On the same cobbled climb where Cancellara launched his winning move in 2011 — a day also marked by his mechanical issues — the rider known as Spartacus had the misfortune of a flat tire in the middle of his own vicious attack.
Cancellara pedaled to the top of the climb and pulled off after a left-hand turn on to pavement, where team soigneurs were equipped with water bottles and spare wheels.
Before he could change the wheel, however, Rabobank’s Carlos Barredo crashed into the RadioShack rider, and both men hit the ground hard. Barredo was taken to a local hospital with a suspected broken wrist, while Cancellara looked to be in pain and was helped back on to his bike by team staff.
The powerful Swiss rider tucked into an aerodynamic position and chased back, with the questionable aid of his team car, eventually regaining contact with the front group. However the way the final 30km played out, with Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Garmin-Barracuda and Sky controlling, a bunch sprint was inevitable; Cancellara crossed the line 22nd.
“Three times problems with the bike, two times I crashed… so much bad luck… more is not possible,” Cancellara said. “What can you do? I tried on the Kwaremont but then had a flat tire, and I pulled over in the curve to change it but then Barredo crashed into me.”
Friday’s outcome was another in a series of frustrating cobbled classics for Cancellara, who won Harelbeke, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in 2010. He was able to repeat Harelbeke in 2011, but was unable to repeat at Flanders or Roubaix while reaching the podium at both races. He won Strade Bianche for a second time in March, and appeared to be the strongest man at Milan-San Remo last weekend, but could not shake Aussie Simon Gerrans in the final three-man sprint.
Because of his unrivaled pure strength, Cancellara has become a marked man in the cobblestone classics, making it increasingly difficult to escape from the pack; three mechanicals and two crashes certainly didn’t help his cause.
“I knew it was going to be a hard race,” he said. “I can see that my condition is good, and for that I can be content. But I had a goal here, and if the goal doesn’t come out, then it’s disappointing. I have never had so much bad luck in a race — and I can’t imagine I will ever have another race with so much bad luck.”