Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) had to dig deep for his victory at the Tour of Oman. The Swiss rider and former champion came to Oman suffering with a cold that was still making it difficult for him to breathe. It didn't show though when he managed to outpace both Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) on the short climb to the finish line.
"It was a long sprint and a nice sprint so I gave everything I could all the way until the end," a delighted Cancellara said at the finish of stage 2. "It's not every day that you get a chance to be up there and it's already many years that in this type of finish I was there but I never had a chance. I am really satisfied."
After expressing his disappointment at only securing three victories last season, although one of those was the Tour of Flanders, a victory this early in the season will be a boon to Cancellara's psyche. It will also be a warning shot to his rivals who may have hoped that he was winding down towards retirement. With the cobbled classics beginning just a week after the Tour of Oman finishes, Cancellara hopes that the victory will help him towards success at the bigger races to come.
"I saw already in Qatar that I'm good and I tried to keep it going. I want to achieve the highest and we only have a few weeks left to do that," he explained. "This is a small step towards the big ones because only thinking about the big ones is not a good thing. That is what I did for many years - I still want the big ones but I didn't want the small ones. Now I am trying to go from the big ones to the small ones."
Cancellara is expected to retire at the end of 2016 and says that he isn't just going to roll around, happy to still be in the peloton. "I just want to get into the flow of racing and not just be in the race. I want to be there, which means that your head is switched on and you give your best with the team because you never know when it's over. I know that in a few years it will be over so I want to try and enjoy it."
Despite still suffering the effects of the cold, Cancellara told his teammates that he was ready to try and contest the stage, as they passed through the feed zone just past the halfway point. "When you focus on concentrating you forget your breathing, you just push pedals as fast as you can," he said. "It was tough because somehow I felt I was leaving my lungs on the side of the road.
"When you go full gas and you don't have 100% respiration then it is not easy but in the end I said ‘hey we'll see how it goes'. It was a short and intense effort and with the power I have I thought I could probably go over it and in the end it was just like this but the best climbers could still come back."
Fortunately for Cancellara, he had the assistance of up and coming climber Julian Arredondo when the race favourites began to take chunks out of each other. Arredondo made a brief appearance on the front of the bunch, which was cause for concern for the GC riders and diverted the attention from his teammate. Cancellara praised the Arredondo and his other Trek Factory Racing teammates for what he labelled as perfect teamwork.
"I'm super happy and the work that the team did was excellent because the other day we didn't really do the job that we should do," he said in reference to Trek's failure to contest the sprint on day one. "I wouldn't say that there was confusion but we lost each other a few times. Today was the exact opposite - we did the perfect team job and everybody did the job that they had to do."