Fabian Cancellara showed his strength by soloing to victory at E3 Harelbeke last week, but RadioShack-Leopard team manager Luca Guercilena is aware that his rider will also need to display his tactical intelligence if he is to repeat that triumph at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
Two years ago, Cancellara won in similarly emphatic fashion at E3 Harelbeke, but was heavily marked a week later, as he went on to finish in third place at the Tour of Flanders. Guercilena has worked closely with Cancellara since the Swiss rider left the Bjarne Riis stable before the 2011 season, and he is well-placed to assess Cancellara’s condition ahead of the biggest objective of his season.
“I think that over the course of the past three years, Fabian has always arrived at the classics at the same level,” Guercilena told Cyclingnews. “He was excellent this time last year and he’s at a very good level again now.”
No one can step into the same river twice, of course, and Cancellara came into this year’s Classics campaign seeking reassurances after crashes ruined his 2012 season, first at the Tour of Flanders and then in the Olympic Games road race. The early signs from Milan-San Remo (where he finished a close third behind Gerald Ciolek and Peter Sagan) and Harelbeke are encouraging. Guercilena suggested that concentration was a keyword for the Cancellara of 2013.
“Given the injuries he had last year, maybe there isn’t the same certainty that there was about his condition last year, but then again, maybe that was something that led to him making errors,” Guercilena said.
“When you have excellent condition and you’re pedaling with a certain degree of ease, there is always the danger of getting distracted and you run the risk of making errors. This year, from that point of view, we’re a lot more focused, attentive and calmer. We’re aware that we have to ride with intelligence too, not just with strength.”
Just Cancellara and Sagan are the five-star favourite for victory at this year's Tour of Flanders. Though Cancellara can take heart from the manner in which he dispatched the Slovak on the Kwaremont at E3 Harelbeke, Guercilena acknowledged that it is difficult to find weaknesses in the Cannondale rider's armoury.
“The ideal thing would be to isolate him and put him in a situation where he had to respond to all of the attacks himself,” Guercilena said, hinting at the RadioShack-Leopard race strategy.
A new role
Guercilena’s rapport with Cancellara was such that he also served as Swiss national coach last year, and when he was promoted to the role of RadioShack team manager following Johan Bruyneel’s departure last year, Cancellara made it clear that he wanted the Italian to remain closely involved in his day-to-day preparation.
“The relationship hasn’t changed in terms of training and preparation, and as a team we’ve succeeded in giving him the best support possible, maybe even more than in years gone by,” said Guercilena.
Nonetheless, Guercilena’s role is now an all-encompassing one, and marks a stark change from his initial position on the coaching staff when he joined from QuickStep in 2011. With RadioShack’s contract up for renewal this year, there is the additional pressure to finding sufficient backing to ensure the team’s long-term survival in the wake of the negative publicity that surrounded Bruyneel's tenure and Frank Schleck's positive test at the 2012 Tour de France.
“Nominally, it’s the owners of the team who are working specifically to find the financial support for the future, but of course being part of the team and with the contacts I have, I’m looking to use them to help provide a good future to this team too,” said Guercilena. “At the moment, though, it’s certainly premature to talk about the situation. When we have meaningful information, we’ll relay it.”
Andy Schleck's gradual comeback
Guercilena struck an optimistic note about the progress of Andy Schleck, who has struggled for condition and motivation after a troubled 2012 campaign, that saw him miss the Tour de France through injury and his brother Fränk test positive for the diuretic Xipamide.
Schleck finished his first stage race in almost twelve months at Critérium International last weekend.
“I’ve been saying it for a while, but Andy’s clearly gone through a difficult psychological situation and he’s slowly coming out of it,” Guercilena said. “Critérium International was the first real sign of this recovery but we were already aware of that from Tirreno-Adriatico, where he did everything possible with the condition that he had at that moment. We’re confident that he can gradually get back to his true level.”