DOHA, Qatar (VN) — There was an inevitability to the question, which was met with an equal inevitability.
Fabian, are you nervous the others are going so well right now? Namely Tom and Omega?
Cancellara sighed. What can he do but sigh? He has won Flanders twice and Roubaix three times, but the pressures and the challenges are unrelenting, and the media and fans are frothing at the mouth for a duel between “Spartacus” and “Tommeke.” No one can blame them.
Cancellara sighed again. Not exasperated. More like all-knowing.
“It’s every year the same,” he said. “Every year the same. Of course you want to be at the top as well. You want to be with the team in front. You want to win. You want to have success. It’s nice for the team, nice for the sponsor. … I mean, so far we know what we do, we know where we want to come and what we want to achieve. I don’t say we want to stay quiet. But we are working on what we want to achieve.”
As it is now, there are a few ways to build toward the ever-important classics season. One, come out guns blazing and destroy everything in the path. (See Omega Pharma-Quick Step this week for a crash course in bike-race pillaging.) Or, a team can ride itself into form and ease into the season. (See Fabian Cancellara’s Trek Factory Racing team for the latter.)
Either way, Cancellara isn’t worried. He faced his usual bouquet of recorders and iPhones after coming up a bit short in the stage 3 time trial Wednesday and, in his signature style, said what everyone wanted to hear: It’s a long way to the cobbles.
“Today is not April. I see many riders already in very good shape. Or bad. Or they are too good. There is always the calculation you make by yourself and say, ‘OK, how good is Quick Step? How good is BMC? How good is [Lotto-Belisol’s Jürgen] Roelandts? How good are these riders? And you see, they pedal pretty fast. Or they’re really well prepared coming here, like they say, ‘we do high intensity, high racing, and then we go a bit slower.’”
For Cancellara, these races are the race days filling up his legs after winter training. He didn’t come to the tours of Dubai, Qatar, and Oman to win. He came to tune, and to ride with his Trek team, which will employ many of these riders come classics time.
“Everyone is doing his own thing. I’m trying to do my thing,” he said. “Tirreno coming up, and the classics. Somehow it goes long, somehow it goes fast. But I don’t stress about it. I’m just focused … we see that you need to be 100-percent prepared for racing here in the top-front, not just in the front. You need to have a lot of power for that.”
Boonen is enjoying an embarrassment of Omega Pharma’s riches in Qatar. He’s won two stages with impressive snap, his team has shown absolute dominance when called upon, and Niki Terpstra, who also won a stage, leads the GC. It’s setting up a perfect situation for “Tornado Tom”: notch a few early wins, reward a top teammate with a GC win, and barrel into spring with a mixture of destiny and redemption. Asked by VeloNews if he thought Trek would up its game significantly and soon, Boonen was sure the new team would.
“I don’t think it’s the right time to be talking about the teams for the classics already. This is the race that we always are good at. We always focus on it a little bit. It’s one of the only races in the first part of the season that we really come to enjoy ourselves a little bit and have fun and really go hard,” he said after winning on Wednesday in a sprint. “But yeah — Trek will be ready for the classics. Its nicer for us to be relaxed, to see that everybody’s good, than maybe to have to already worry a little bit, like, ‘OK we have a lot of work to do.’ But it doesn’t change a thing. You have to stay focused. And everybody still has to improve for April.”
Omega Pharma has certainly owned Qatar. That hasn’t gone to Boonen’s head. He’s won this race four times and every time he has, he’s gone on to achieve a monument win in the same year.
“We still have work to do. Don’t get me wrong. A lot of these guys, if you look at them three years ago and you look at them now, they’ve really evolved as riders,” he said of his teammates. “There still is always work to do, even for the best rider and the best sprinter in the world, there is always work to do. But it’s nice to have fun with these guys and to see them grow and getting older.”
In Omega Pharma, Cancellara sees a team ready to rip. And it appears — barring an errant bottle or other mishap — that this classics season will finally see Boonen and Cancellara arrive at the cobbled crossroads at their best. To ride well in Qatar, Cancellara said, a team has to be dedicated to that purpose, as Boonen noted Omega is.
“Otherwise it doesn’t work well. We see the riders from Omega going and how they’ve been pushing. They’ve been focused. They came in here for a goal. I don’t think they came in here just for riding and to see how it goes. That’s the opposite from us. We came here to ride and get into the first races and then growing and growing. And that’s the few … different things. Do you grow like this, like we do? Or do you grow like they do,” he said.
The answer, of course, is unwritten at this point, though as Cancellara noted, there is but one fundamental truth to this entire riddle.
“I don’t say you need a lot of luck, or whatever you need,” he said. “But of course you need a lot of power in the legs, otherwise you don’t stay in the front. That’s how simple it is. That’s not a secret in cycling. Without power, you go nowhere. You don’t stay on the front. You go to the back.”