HAMPTON COURT, England (VN) — It was a sight no one wanted to see — Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara, the most dominant time trial rider of the past decade, crossing the finish line in pain and well out reach of an Olympic medal.
Though Cancellara was the last man out the start house, the Swiss rider’s time checks were so far off Bradley Wiggins’ pace that his legion of fans began celebrating his gold medal ride with Cancellara still out on course.
Cancellara eventually crossed the finish line to minimal fanfare in seventh, 2:14 off Wiggins’ winning time.
Even the most biased of Londoners had to admit feeling badly for the big Swiss champion, who crashed heavily into the barriers in Saturday’s Olympic road race when he overcooked a right turn with 15km remaining, losing contact with the lead group and any hope for a medal.
Though he didn’t break any bones, Cancellara suffered massive bruising to his shoulder and didn’t make the decision to race until late Tuesday.
“I think on a normal race maybe I would have stayed at home,” Cancellara said. “But I respect the Olympics, and being the defending champion, it would have been harder watching the race from home. I had nothing to lose today, while I lost everything on Saturday, almost on a golden plate.”
Cancellara’s Olympic road race crash was the continuation of a frustrating season that has seen him on top form, winning at Strade Bianche and reaching the podium at Milan-San Remo, but crashing out of the Tour of Flanders with a shattered collarbone that required surgery.
Though he wasn’t able to win a time trial at the Tour of Switzerland, finishing second in the prologue and the ITT, he returned to top form in time to win the Tour de France prologue and spend a week in the yellow jersey.
After crossing the finish line, Cancellara sat on the ground, in a spot shaded by barrier signage, for several minutes, his face buried in a towel. When he finally remounted his bike to ride past the podium area and into a press zone, the sheepish expression on his face was almost one of embarrassment; he chose not to wave to the hundred of fans applauding his valiant effort.
“I saw straight away that with the shoulder it wasn’t the ideal situation,” Cancellara said. “I’ve done my best, that’s what counts in sport and I’m proud of that. I’ve prepared so much for these days. In the last few hours I recovered well, but to win medals you need to have better days.”
And though we’ll never know how a healthy Cancellara might have fared against Wiggins, the four-time world TT champion was gracious in defeat.
“I think he’s had the perfect ride today, especially with the crowd cheering him on,” Cancellara said. “He’s another level of rider at the moment. For sure, he deserved this win today.”