Tales from the peloton, June 17, 2007
It's been almost nine months since his last win but fans of Fabian Cancellara need fear not; he's back on top once again. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes was at the press conference which followed his victory in Olten.
Compared to this time last year, Fabian Cancellara's palmarès for the current season is quite a bit sparser. He finished second in the Grand Prix E3, fourth and fifth on stages of the Tour of California and 19th in Paris-Roubaix, a race he was trying to win. But the big Swiss engine showed that he is back on track when he dominated the prologue of the Tour de Suisse in Olten on Saturday, finishing well clear of his rivals in the 3.8 kilometre test.
"This is my first victory since winning the world championships in Salzburg," he told the press, sitting in the media with a bright new yellow jersey on his back. "I have tried since then to win another race but I didn't have the luck. It is a good feeling to get back to winning."
"I rode the course eight times this morning to become familiar with this prologue." -Cancellara entered the stage well prepared
On a day where differences between riders were marked in milliseconds, Cancellara smashed the opposition on the mainly flat, extremely technical time trial. He was a full eight seconds clear of runner-up Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) over the short distance, and said that it was meticulous preparation which was responsible for the result.
"I rode the course eight times this morning to become familiar with this prologue," he told the press following the stage. "Even considering that, I was a bit surprised by it [the tight corners] as during the race I was going much faster than in training."
He said that the opening time trial was a big goal for him in the weeks leading up to the race. "This is almost like a present for my family because recently I have been spending a lot of time training. I made a lot of sacrifices for this prologue, and I think my margin of victory is due to everything coming together here.
"This was a big objective for me and I thought about it a lot during the day. I was visualising what it would be like to ride the race and to win and really focussed a lot. I think that helped me to give more than a hundred percent out there."
He rode the race with his number upside down and was asked about that in the conference. "I was given the number thirteen and while I am not really that superstitious, I thought 'oh s**' when I saw it," he smiled. "As a result I did everything I could to avoid bad luck. That is why I turned it upside-down and wore it that way."
Cancellara has been winning these individual tests for many years. The Swiss are favourites for their clocks and watches; it is fitting, therefore, that he is a strong chrono man. When he was just 20 years of age he finished second in the Grand Prix Eddy Merckx and 15th in the world championship time trial. The following season he won the Eddy Merckx race, was 8th in the Grand Prix des Nations, ninth in the worlds and second in the Chrono des Herbiers. He won the overall of the Grand Prix Erik Breukink due to his victory in the TT there and also triumphed in the GC of the Tour de Rhodes.
2003 saw him move up the big time with wins in more important races. He took the opening stage of the Tour de Romandie in Geneva, won the time trial in the Tour of Belgium and the prologue of the Tour de Suisse in Egerkingen. Ninth overall in the Tour of Germany and fourth in the Tour of the Benelux showed his all-round strength.
The progression continued the following season when, in the colours of the Swiss national champion, he beat Lance Armstrong and the world's other top riders to win the prologue of the Tour de France in Liège. Cancellara also won stages in the Setmana Catalana, the Tour of Luxembourg and the Tour of Qatar, then did the same in 2005 in Paris-Nice, Setmana Catalana and the Tour of Luxembourg. He defended his Swiss TT title that season and again in 2006, marking him out as the dominant time trial rider of his country.
Last season he was 25 years of age and really started to hit the top. He won the time trial in Tirreno-Adriatico, finished sixth in the Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, then dominated Paris-Roubaix to take his first Classic. The Tour of Denmark was another breakthrough performance as Cancellara took his first big stage race, sealing the overall thanks to his wins on stages two and five and riding well throughout.
In addition to that, he triumphed on a stage of the Tour of Catalunya. But it was his win in Salzburg which was probably the most important of his career; he was 1 minute 30 seconds clear of runner-up Dave Zabriskie (USA) there, becoming world champion at the end of a very good season.
Like many winners of the rainbow jersey, he's had a somewhat slower 2007. But, he says, there are clear reasons for this.
"I only returned to serious training in January," he stated. "Last year I had the victory in Roubaix, I had the [world] title in Salzburg, I had my marriage and the birth of my child. I had so many emotions to deal with and that is why I only began training properly in January. I am a bit surprised that I was riding well despite that [in the Tour of Flanders, etc – ed.]."
Cancellara has tasted victory in the Swiss race before, winning the short opening TT back in 2003. He lost it the following day to stage winner Alexandre Vinokourov but now, four years older and stronger, he plans to hang on to it a while longer.
"I would like to continue in this jersey of leader for as long as possible," he stated. "When I had it in this race before I lost it after only 24 hours.
"The first goal now is to defend my yellow jersey with the bonifications during the stage and perhaps also those at the finish. My other objective is to take the final time trial in Bern because it is so close to my home. There will probably be more spectators [wanting him to win] and I will probably be more of a favourite, and I will do everything I can to take that victory."
Cancellara was asked what the ideal time trial length was for him. He answered that his ability is such that he is strong over all distances, but also stated that it is statistically harder in the shorter tests.
"When the distance is short there are many more riders who can win. There are fewer favourites in the longer time trial. I have the impression that as I get a little older, I am riding better than before in the longer time trials. But I still have to keep my ability over each type of distance."
Following the 33.7 kilometre time trial at the end of the Tour de Suisse, his attention will shift back to shorter efforts. In 2004 he tasted Tour yellow in Liège and, having missed out on the race last year, he now wants more of that. He will consequently remain focussed in the run-up to the start in London in three weeks.
"It is hard to say but I don't have the impression that I am at a hundred percent of my form yet," he stated. "The first phase of my preparation has gone well in the run-up to this Tour de Suisse. Now I will work hard to take an even more important yellow jersey in the Tour de France."