Fabian Cancellara's run streak of winning the opening Tour de France time trial ended on Saturday in Utrecht at five. The Trek rider could manage only third on the 13.8km test, six seconds slower over the crowd-packed course in Utrecht than winner Rohan Dennis (BMC) and one second down on runner-up Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep).
After crossing the finish line Cancellara sat on the sidewalk for a while, recovering and gasping for air, freshening up and taking his time to recover from a rough ride through the heat. After a handful of minutes he started talking to the media.
"What can I say," Cancellara wondered. "Today was a big opportunity but I didn't take the jersey. That's the sport. I know that I lost some seconds in three corners, some millimetres were not perfectly ridden today. I gave all I had."
Before the race Cancellara named Dennis, Martin and also home rider Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) as favourites. His prediction was right as they made up the top four on Saturday. The weather conditions were quite similar for all riders on Saturday afternoon. The heat was immense but the wind seemed to become more of a factor later in the afternoon. Rohan Dennis started his effort at 14:37 while Cancellara chose to start late, starting at 17:03.
"In this heat I suffer more than in other circumstances. It wasn't super but it was the same for everybody. With a TT-helmet, and also without time to drink, at the end it's obvious the throat is incredibly dry. That's the way it is. I did all that was possible. Since this morning, I did the maximum with the support of the team."
A crash in the E3 Harelbeke ruined Cancellara's classics campaign as he sustained minor fractures in the transverse processes of his lower vertebrae. He wasn't able to take part in the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. Back soreness hindered his comeback to racing, and before the start of the Tour de France the 34-year-old Swiss cycling star hinted that the 2015 edition, his 10th, could possibly be his final Tour.
A win from Cancellara on Saturday would've been his sixth victory in an opening stage of the 'grande boucle', a record he will now continue to share with 1950's rider André Darrigade. Cancellara also remains at 28 days in yellow, which is the most for a rider who never won the Tour de France and also the most among the active riders. Cancellara referred to his time-trial victories as special days. This Saturday turned out not to be another one of those special days.
"It wasn't a good day. Today was a big opportunity but I failed to take it [the yellow jersey]. I wanted to get to 30 days in yellow but then again I already spent 28 days in the jersey. I think I already did great things in the past. I always try to make the race, find new goals and ways to have fun. Something extra is always good but today that wasn't the case. Now the Tour starts. The Tour is still long," Cancellara said, seemingly promising fireworks in the upcoming stages.
Sunday's stage from Utrecht to Neeltje Jans in the Zeeland province of Netherland might offer Cancellara a chance to hunt for a stage victory. The weather conditions might turn stormy, providing an opportunity for the Swiss classics specialist to fight the elements and the peloton in the south-west of the Netherlands.