ZOTTEGEM, Belgium (VN) — If there were any doubts about Fabian Cancellara’s condition coming into the spring classics, he erased them during last Friday’s E3 Harelbeke.
The Trek Factory Racing star was caught up behind a race-changing crash with about 40 kilometers to go, and later passed nearly the entire peloton to regain contact with the lead chase group. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) powered to an equally impressive win, but Cancellara put everyone on notice that he is ready for Sunday’s big battle at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).
VeloNews caught up with Trek Factory Racing sport director Dirk Demol for his take on the upcoming battle over the bergs.
VeloNews: Earlier this spring, it was unclear where Cancellara was on his form. How do you gauge his form?
Dirk Demol: Every year, we have the same preparation, with training camps and races. We change it around a little bit, but this year, everyone was saying he was a bit behind, but now it’s three months later, and he’s proven that he is ready.
VN: Where is Cancellara now mentally? Ready for the big battle?
DD: When he comes to these races, Flanders and Roubaix, these are the two biggest races of the year in his eyes. You can see him growing mentally and physically toward this period. He is a good leader, and you can see the team is growing. On Friday, we did a good race, and in Sanremo, we had four riders on the Poggio in a group of 30. Fabian shows them he is ready.
VN: How do you rank Cancellara in the history of classics riders?
DD: This is a difficult question. For sure he is top. I saw a Twitter last Sunday, the last 10 monuments that he finished, he was always on the podium. He must be top, top, really top. Ten times on the podium, boof! There was the exception two years ago when he crashed out at Flanders, so that means without bad luck, he will be a contender again for the next two Sundays.
VN: You’ve also known [Tom] Boonen a long time. What are your impressions of him coming into the classics?
DD: I was impressed about his fitness when I saw him in Qatar. When he beat [André] Greipel in the sprint, I thought, “this is the best Tom we’ve ever seen.” But what happened last week, you could see on Wednesday and Friday, he was suffering. But he is one who is always there. It’s not just a fight between Fabian and Tom, we have a lot of good other riders. One thing is sure: we know that Tom will be playing an important role in Flanders and Roubaix.
VN: How do you view their rivalry?
DD: They get along very well. They are friends off the bike. On the bike, in the heat of the battle, they’re fighting, that’s normal. They have a lot of mutual respect. You can see it when Fabian is talking about Tom. There is deep respect there.
VN: And Peter Sagan is pushing them both …
DD: Young riders are coming up. Sagan is a push for motivation. Fabian knows he has to stay super motivated all the time to see if he can still beat those guys. The big advantage Fabian has is his experience. That helps so much in these big races.
VN: What’s your take on Sagan?
DD: He’s good. He won at Harelbeke when he said he wasn’t that good, and he won quite easy. I saw at Tirreno-Adriatico he was ready. He was only 10th at Sanremo, but that was a hard day for everyone. For sure he will be there. It’s not just a battle between Tom and Fabian; there is a lot more to come.
VN: Do teams take the classics more seriously these days?
DD: We were around the area to do some inspections of the roads, and we saw other teams on the road. Everyone is taking it more seriously. You will see that each team will have staffers on the climbs and on the cobble sections with spare wheels and bidons. In the past, maybe it was two or three times we’d do that, now we will do it 10-12 times. Everything is much more organized to try to limit the problems.
VN: How intense are these Belgian classics?
DD: This is like the Tour de France. We try to take it less pressure in February, then we get serious in March, and you can see it build toward Sanremo. Everyone is very focused. All the riders know that this is such an important period. We are confident that we are good position for some big results. You can feel the concentration.