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Cancellara goes back to his roots, focuses on stockpiling classics

  • By Andrew Hood
  • Published Mar. 21, 2014
  • Updated Mar. 27, 2014 at 6:14 PM EDT
Fabian Cancellara is out to collect more monuments. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

MILAN (VN) — Perhaps more than any rider in the contemporary peloton, Fabian Cancellara’s “been there and done that.” The Swiss has done a lot of “that,” in fact: Olympic medals, monument victories, yellow jerseys, and world titles, they’re all his.

At 33, the Trek Factory Racing superstar has reached a point at which he can pick and choose. A run at the hour record looks to be in the cards later this season — don’t ask him about that just now — but what clearly gets Cancellara’s pulse running is the classics season.

One gets the feeling that if Cancellara had his way, every day would be Paris-Roubaix.

“When you’re at the top of the Poggio, you cannot buy that feeling. You have to achieve this,” Cancellara said. “To be at the start of [Tour of] Flanders or Roubaix, these are amazing feelings. You’re nervous, but it’s a positive nervous. If we could make the entire season just classics, I would be very happy.”

Cycling’s “Spartacus” sat down with a half-dozen journalists on the eve of the final stage at Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this week. He was expansive about the past, the present, and the future. Cancellara realizes that he’s entering the final few good years of his tremendously successful career, and he gives no indication he’s going to let them go to waste.

With six monuments — cycling’s most prestigious one-day races — on his stellar palmares, Cancellara wants to add to that number before he’s done. And rather than get nostalgic, he’s concentrating on the here and now, and he’ll start Sunday’s Milano-Sanremo with every intention of winning.

“I am feeling good. I am ready for the challenge,” he said. “It’s over just being in the peloton. Now, from Sunday on, there are five races that are counting. There is a list of races that I have to perform. I have to be good on one day.”

By his own admission, Cancellara will only get truly excited once Milano-Sanremo starts. There may be some pre-night jitters of excitement, but he’s been around the block. Racing is his craft, his profession, and he takes it seriously, but Cancellara’s no wet-behind-the-ears rookie.

“I don’t feel the classics are coming. When Milano-Sanremo is over, then I will have this feeling. I am not nervous. It’s business, it’s work, but it’s a job I enjoy,” he said. “I don’t want to just receive the salary and be happy. Money isn’t everything in life.”

Cancellara entered 2014 with a renewed appetite for destruction. He said he enjoyed the mild winter in Europe, trained well, and said he’s ready for all challengers, from archrival Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) to newcomer Peter Sagan (Cannondale). This is crunch time.

Cancellara and Boonen still have a few tussles, but the former admitted they can feel a new generation breathing down their necks.

“The new generation is already there. It’s good, it’s positive, somehow I feel when I hear this, but when you look at how many years they have on the shoulder, like [Trek teammate] Bob Jungels, it gives me inspiration,” he said. “I don’t want to get my butt kicked by young riders.”

Part of Cancellara’s more mature reflection comes from the fact that he’s achieved so much, but has also realized that some dreams in the sport will forever remain out of his grasp.

There was a time when Cancellara was daring to dream he could someday evolve into a grand-tour contender. With his power, and his time trialing dominance, some believed if Cancellara could slim down, he could perhaps win a Tour de France. The man who did that was Bradley Wiggins, in 2012.

Genetics stacked up against him. The big Swiss time machine was born strong as an ox, and he’s wired to weigh north of 80kg. By slimming down by another 10kg, even if that were possible, he would simply stop being Fabian.

“I will never go to win the Tour. It was a dream; it stays a dream. It will never be a goal,” he said flatly. “What’s important are the one-day races. I am not thinking about the time trials, because that’s not me anymore. … I am more happy to win a one-day race or a stage.”

Or another monument. Cancellara and Boonen are riding into the twilight of their careers and each is intent on cementing his legacy. In 2012, it was Boonen taking home the Flanders-Roubaix double; last year, Cancellara. Both look to be on track for an epic clash in 2014.

There’s a sense that Cancellara clearly wants to go out through the “puerta grande,” a bull-fighting term referring to how a toreador is carried out of the bullring on the shoulders of the aficionados.

“One day the day will come when it’s ending,” he said. “I can still achieve a lot. I don’t want to ride my bike because I like it. I want to race with ambitions.”

Bring it on, Fabian, bring it on.

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Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood has covered every Tour de France since 1996 and has been VeloNews' European correspondent since 2002.

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