Before the injured Fabian Cancellara departed Belgium on Saturday afternoon, his classics campaign over before it had truly begun, Johan Museeuw made a point of visiting the Weinebrugge Hotel to offer his sympathy.
Cancellara’s crash at E3 Harelbeke left him with two fractured vertebrae and denies him the chance to set an outright record of four Tour of Flanders victories next Sunday. His plight is not an altogether unfamiliar one for his fellow three-time winner Museeuw, who risked losing his career – and his leg – when he fractured his kneecap in a fall in the Arenberg forest at the 1998 Paris-Roubaix.
Although Cancellara has already intimated that he is likely to bring the curtain down on his career at the end of 2016, when his current contract with Trek Factory Racing expires, Museeuw told the Swiss rider during their meeting that he could come back and compete at the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix for another three years. “What age are you? 34? You can do it,” he said.
“I know what it feels like,” Museeuw told Cyclingnews a short time later. “He’s not young anymore so he can put it in perspective and realise that there are more things in life than cycling, but it’s still such a big part of your life: you prepare, you do everything, you suffer a lot and then one week before the Tour of Flanders, it’s over.
“What can you do? You can say nothing about it, you can think just about next year: that’s it. The classics are over. It’s the same for Tom Boonen [who broke his collarbone at Paris-Nice – ed.] The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix come within one week, and you just hope you don’t get sick or you don’t have a crash. It can happen in your career and it’s a shame that it’s near the end, but the lucky thing is that they have both already won three Tours of Flanders.”
One consolation for Cancellara and Boonen, Museeuw pointed out, is that the World Championships road race in Richmond, with its cobbled section in Libby Hill Park, offers a chance to salvage something of substance from a truncated season.
“When something like this happens, you go home quickly and don’t think about the race. Maybe it’s difficult for both to find new motivation, because they are classics riders and the classics are gone, but they have to think about the Worlds. Cancellara has won the time trial a lot but never the road race – for a rider at his level, to wear the rainbow jersey for a year would be important,” said Museeuw, who in a 2012 interview confessed to doping during his career and called for “a collective mea culpa.”
Between them, Cancellara and Boonen have won six of the ten Tours of Flanders and seven of the ten editions of Paris-Roubaix since Museeuw’s retirement in 2004, and their injuries radically alter the complexion of the next two Sundays on the cobbles.
Museeuw was relieved of his ambassadorial role for the QuickStep team after his first, partial doping confession in 2009, but he tipped a rider from Patrick Lefevere’s squad to land victory at the Tour of Flanders despite Boonen’s absence.
“Last year and the other years you saw Boonen and Cancellara, they had another level, but you don’t see a guy like that this year,” Museeuw said. “If I can count on one rider it will be Zdenek Stybar. I think he can go in the breakaway the last time up the Paterberg. He made a mistake in the final at Harelbeke but he was good all day. He has the body to deal with the kilometres, the hills and the cobbles, and he has the explosiveness to go the last time up the Paterberg. If there’s a small group the last time up the Paterberg and Stybar has the legs, then he will go.”