Cancellara finds middle ground with Trek in Worlds preparation

Swiss rider ready to “enjoy the last pain of the year”

Fabian Cancellara hesitated when the question was put to him, and then smiled sheepishly. The Swiss rider had just led his Trek Factory Racing squad to 7th place in the team time trial at the World Championships, but had he lined up in the event by choice or out of obligation?

After all, Cancellara’s focus through the second half of the season has been exclusively on the fourth Sunday in September and the Worlds road race, to such an extent that he will even forgo the Wednesday’s individual time trial to save himself for the weekend.

“Eh, good question,” Cancellara said. “I think to skip the time trial was already somehow necessary for me because the main goal is Sunday, that’s not a secret.”

The team time trial was introduced by the UCI to give trade teams a window during its showpiece week of racing, and it was no surprise that Trek demanded the presence of its marquee name, though Cancellara was quick to stress that there had been no vexed club versus country debate. Trek manager Luca Guercilena, after all, also moonlights as the Swiss national team coach.

“I had to find the middle way from my own experience towards my training and also the political situation with Trek and the team,” Cancellara explained. “There’s a whole mix – that’s not a secret and that’s how it is. It’s not just ‘ok, I can do whatever I want’ and the team does whatever it wants. We find a middle way and on the end I love also the team time trial.”

Indeed, Cancellara and Trek have been striking compromises with Ponferrada in mind for several months. Since bringing the curtain down on the opening part of his year at Paris-Roubaix, the world championships road race has been the overarching objective, but the 33-year-old is aware of his responsibilities – sporting and commercial – to his team.

Riding the Tour de France did not necessarily tally with preparing for Ponferrada, perhaps, but in Trek’s first year of title sponsorship, they could not travel to the Grande Boucle without their most marketable name, and so Cancellara raced the first week in France before quietly pulling out on the first rest day to keep his powder dry for September.

Getting tired?

Although Cancellara will not compete against Tony Martin and Bradley Wiggins in the time trial, he will remain in north-western Spain for the remainder of the week as he completes his preparation for the Worlds, and he told the group of reporters in the mixed zone after the team time trial that he is feeling the effects of a long campaign.

“I will stay here. I will of course do my last training here and I’m looking forward to the race,” he said, adding: “I’m looking forward to my holidays too. I don’t say I’m tired, but I’m getting tired.”

Cancellara’s gaunt face and his brief but impressive cameos at the recent Vuelta a España suggest that he is reaching a crescendo rather than the end of his tether, however, but then the triple Tour of Flanders winner is no stranger to the occasional mind game ahead of a major event.

In spring, Cancellara has the tendency to plant little seeds of doubt in the minds of his rivals – an aside to the press here, a fierce acceleration there – while his own form blossoms ahead of the cobbled classics. This autumn, meanwhile, he seems happy to let on that he may be too weary to reap the benefits of what he has sown in training through the summer months.

“We’re not in Firenze, we’re in a place where it’s maybe hard to really motivate the last thing,” Cancellara said of the Ponferrada Worlds. “But I’m focused and that’s what counts. That’s what it’s all about now. I’ll just enjoy the last pain of the year and that’s all.”

Cancellara does have on very legitimate reason to downplay his rainbow jersey aspirations, of course. By a curious quirk of the Byzantine scoring system that govern the designation of berths for the road race, WorldTour points scored by Pro Continental riders do not count towards a nation’s total. As a result, Cancellara will have just two Swiss teammates for company on Sunday.

“Of course now we’re starting with just two riders, so things are different,” he said. “There are many other riders and nationalities with a super strong team but we know it’s the Worlds, and the Worlds is always a difficult race.”

Cancellara was coy, however, when a pair of local reporters asked if he felt the Ponferrada course was selective enough for his designs. “I’m talking about today, not about Sunday,” he said. “From tomorrow, we’ll start thinking about Sunday.”

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