Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) has returned to Belgium ahead of the Tour of Flanders after spending the week fine-tuning his preparation at home in Switzerland. The defending champion is the overwhelming favourite for Sunday’s race after his imposing win at the E3 Prijs in Harelbeke last weekend, and he is confident that he can handle the burden of expectation.
“People may want to put everything on my shoulders, but I have large, wide shoulders,” Cancellara smiled at Leopard Trek’s pre-race press conference in Kortrijk.
“To come here as strong as I’m feeling and to be defending champion and number one favourite has not always happened, but I’m ready for that. The world knows I’m strong and the world knows I’m ready, so why should I step back.”
While some of his rivals have sought to pile on the pressure during the week by emphasising his favourite’s status in the wake of his exhibition at E3, Cancellara responded to such claims with a psychological game of his own, wondering aloud if he had indeed reached the peak of his form on the road to Harelbeke.
“It’s too easy to put all this pressure to my side,” he said. “I think they’re putting the pressure on by talking in this way because they’ve seen the race on Saturday and I take it as a compliment, but I know where I want to be on Sunday, and this is the biggest question mark – was I 100% last Saturday or not? And only I know that and no-one else, except for the team.
Although Cancellara is likely to be heavily marked at De Ronde, he was optimistic that the circumstances of the race would not eliminate him from contention and he did not believe that his rivals would allow an early break stay clear.
“I have a perfect scenario for myself but the worst thing would be if there’s a group in front and nobody pulls because they don’t want to bring me back up,” he said. “But that means they’re going to lose the race and we’d have a surprise winner. I don’t think that people want to have a surprise winner.
“If they race just against me then they’re going to lose the race. When they look only at one person they have the wrong tactics and the wrong way of racing.”
Cancellara was reluctant to divulge his own ideal winning scenario, but rather maintained that past and recent experience demonstrated that he was capable of improvising and winning from a number of different situations.
“For me, it’s however it comes,” he said. “I know what it is to jump from the front, or from behind, step by step like last week. I know how it is when you’re alone in front, or when there are two of you. I know a lot of different scenarios. I think I can say that maybe I could have a perfect scenario with whatever comes my way because I know how to handle all situations.
“But still, it’s one day that’s going to decide this race and nothing else. What you’ve done before is important but now it’s 260km that are going to decide the race.”
Getting away from it all in Switzerland
After winning the E3 Prijs in Harelbeke on Saturday, Cancellara skipped Gent-Wevelgem and returned to his home in Switzerland in order to complete his build-up to the Tour of Flanders, and he emphasised the importance of having a relaxed approach to the big day.
Cancellara claimed that he only watched the end of Tom Boonen’s Gent-Wevelgem victory on Sunday afternoon as he closed himself off from external pressures, and he said that each man had his own motives for his choice of final pre-Ronde race.
“I saw only the last kilometre actually, as I didn’t really want to think about cycling on Sunday,” Cancellara said. “In the end he did a good sprint. I still think I did what was necessary for me, and Tom has done what he thinks was necessary for him. I know what I did on Saturday, I know what happened, I know how I felt and I know 100 per cent how things seemed. People saw something special.”
In the intervening period, Cancellara has enjoyed a low-key run-in to the most important week of the first half of his season, and he stressed the importance of finding balance between his professional and personal lives.
“I was at home relaxing with my family, getting my training and getting my massages, making sure that I was 100 percent for these last days of the first part of the season,” Cancellara said. “The days go fast, and I’m back here fresh, fresher than last week. For me that’s the most important thing.”
“Cycling is not everything in life and even a few days before this race, maybe it’s good to shut it down to fill up the human being normal battery and not the charging engine that people sometimes say in order to be ready,” he joked.
After his win in Harelbeke last weekend, Cancellara declared himself “hungry” for victory. He continued in the same metaphorical vein on Friday afternoon as he described his relaxed state of mind in the wake of his carefully plotted build-up to the main event.
“Everyone’s ready and comfortable and very confident after what we’ve done in the last few days and last few weeks in training and races,” he said. “I think in a way it’s something like a dessert – you have to put the right sugar on and get everything just right so that you get a nice dessert at the end of the day.”