Many people were surprised to see World time trial champion Fabian Cancellara get left behind during the opening team time trial at the Tour of Qatar. He also missed the front echelon on Monday's road stage, while most of his big-name Classics rivals were in the thick of the action.
However the big man from Berne is not worried about his results in Qatar and what people might read into them. He is starting his tenth season as a professional and knows he has to build his form gradually, even by sacrificing his chances for his teammates and leading out the sprints, so that he can be at his very best for the Spring Classics in April.
Cancellara had to leave his home in Switzerland and train in Spain because of the snow and cold conditions. He was ill in early January but his relaxed manner in Qatar indicates he is where he wants to be at this early point of the season.
"This winter was pretty tough and then I got ill in the New Year, but I quickly got better. Other teams got wet and cold elsewhere in Europe, but we had our training camp at Fuertaventura in the Canary Islands and I got in ten days of great work, doing exactly what we planned," he told Cyclingnews.
"I don't know exactly how good I am, that's why I'm riding Qatar and in Oman. Racing hurts a little bit, but it's important to be here and progress. You can't go deep like that in training."
"I'm not worried about the results and what people might read into them. I know that I did some massive turns in the team time trial before sitting up and that I worked a lot early for the team in the first road stage. I'm happy to work for the team here in Qatar, as I did in the sprint lead out."
"I'm not interested in being at the front all the time just because I'm Fabian Cancellara. The important thing is that my teammates can benefit from the work I do for them and that it all helps my form grow gradually. I also hope to avoid crashing and not to get sick like last year. Last year getting those early season problems ruined all my spring, but I feel I'm on track. I'll hope to be good for the Eroica and then Tirreno-Adriatico, that's when I'll start to really test my form."
This spring, Cancellara has one major goal.
"The Tour of Flanders. That's the big one for me this year," he says bluntly.
"I've won Milan-San Remo, I've won Paris-Roubaix, I've won the Eroica and Tirreno-Adriatico, the only big one missing for me is Flanders. It's perhaps he most difficult classic of all for me to win because of the climbing and tactics but that makes it more of a challenge."
Contrary to reports, he will ride Milano-Sanremo.
"I don't know why that story came out that I wasn't going to ride Milan-San Remo. It's a fundamental race for me, I've won it and it's a special race for me," he said.
If everything goes to plan, Cancellara will also have a go in the Amstel Gold to further develop his skills for the hillier classics. Then he plans to ride the Tour of California, and defend his overall victory at the Tour of Switzerland to prepare for the Tour de France.
Cancellara will also travel to Australia for the world road race championships, with both the time trial and the road race on his mind. He was in tears after missing out on the rainbow jersey in the road race in Mendrisio last year but has put the disappointment behind him, thanks to advice from the late Franco Ballerini.
"It was a hard blow to take, missing out on the world title in the road race after all the work I'd done, but speaking to Franco Ballerini helped me get over it all," he reveals.
"It was a big blow to hear that he died. He was a special person, more than a special bike rider and coach. We talked as friends after the world championships and he helped me get over my disappointment and understand my mistakes."
"I've realised that I was so good that day, so on form, at 100%, that I wasn't thinking intelligently during the race. When you're 100% like that, you actually make more mistakes. It was a strange final lap and strange how Evans got away. I know that I didn't ride as well and as intelligently as I should have."
"But I've learnt from that mistakes and it's the only good thing that came out of the road race and that helps me look to the future."