OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — A year after he lay on the ground with a shattered collarbone, his classics season as broken as his body, Fabian Cancellara returned to the Belgian cobbles and shredded the Ronde van Vlaanderen, leaving no doubt that Spartacus is risen.
The win marks Cancellara’s second at the Tour of Flanders, and positions him as an overwhelming favorite to win next Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, given his glaring strength. Near the race’s end, with 16km to go, Cancellara dialed up the pace on the final trip over the Oude Kwaremont and stretched out the race’s other favorite, Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, who held on, but only just.
Then, when the race hit its final rise, the Paterberg, Cancellara rode away from Sagan and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol), throwing a look over his left shoulder as he crested the climb. The elastic had stretched and snapped, and Spartacus was clear to win a race that had cost him dearly both last year and this. Free, at last. His 10 days home with his family over the last five months had paid off.
“This is the hard moment as an athlete, as a bike rider,” he said. “The last five months, I was only 10 days home. And with a little kid, and a bigger one who now understands and the wife who is home, also sacrificing, like I am doing. She’s seeing it. And of course, that emotion today was really, really big. That’s why I’m really happy she was on the finish line … this is for me what’s really, really important.”
What’s also important to Cancellara is breaking a challenger’s grip on his rear wheel. He won Flanders on Sunday in a fashion similar to the manner in which he won E3 Harelbeke: a late attack and a solo ride to the wire. In the end, he won Flanders by 1 minute and 27 seconds.
“Flanders is a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge,” he said. “Plan B was not really planned. Plan A was this — I had to live with it.” Of course, it didn’t appear hard to live with — he was sipping a Belgian beer while doing a television interview.
For a maligned RadioShack team, the win — the second in eight days — was sweetened by the fact there were questions over the team’s strength. On Sunday, the team managed the race until Cancellara made it his own.
“Everybody was waiting. We showed a bit early in the race that we were really ambitious. And I don’t think it was everybody against Fabian, but everybody was waiting for his attack,” said director sportif Dirk Demol. Wait they did, but they could not match what everyone in the bike race knew was coming.
Demol said he smiled at suggestions that Shack was a weak team surrounding a star.
“I was laughing with that,” he said. “I hear the comments before on television. Also I read it in the papers that everybody was saying — well, almost everybody — that Fabian was good, but he has not a good team. But I knew better. And I had the confidence. And the boys here today were ready to die for him.”
It was a ride as impressive as any, and even teams that suffered a bit of bad luck, such as Sky, probably wouldn’t have beaten a top-form Cancellara.
“Everybody’s disappointed,” said Rod Ellingworth, who heads up Sky’s performance division. “I think it’s easier to accept when somebody like Cancellara pulls out over a kilometer in the last 13 kilometers. It makes it a bit easier, but it still doesn’t make it easy. You still feel disappointed. I feel disappointed for the lads, because they put all the work in.”
But that’s the thing about bike racing: Everyone puts the work in, but not everyone’s day comes. On Sunday, Flanders belonged only to Spartacus.
“One year ago I was on the ground. Now I am back and I’ve won Flanders on the new course,” Cancellara said. “To win as a big favorite, it’s not easy. I saw many Swiss flags there. And at the end I did what I had to do, and that was to bring this Ronde van Vlaanderen home.”