Ordinarily, Fabian Cancellara would be bitterly disappointed with missing the podium, especially just a week before the Tour of Flanders. However, his chase back to take fourth after losing two minutes to a mechanical problem was one of the standout performances at E3 Harelbeke and will have many of his rivals worries.
“I’m kind of disappointed but inside and performance wise, how I was racing, there is also some pride,” Cancellara told reporters after stepping off the team bus at the finish. “At first, it was just that the race was over, and then the anger came. Somehow, I found energy left, and I tried to move on because it is a race that you can’t give up. I knew that it was important today, not only for a result but the fatigue you need to do for next week.”
A forlorn looking Fabian Cancellara stuck a lonely figure as he stood at the side of the stretch of road leading up to the Boigneberg. After making the key split on the Taaienberg, the Swiss rider suffered a broken derailleur, seemingly ending his chances. With his team car stuck behind the myriad of groups along the road, there was little he could do.
“It was definitely not the time for Segafredo coffee break,” he said, finding some humour in the situation and a little time to plug the team’s sponsor. “Suddenly the chain went down, and the derailleur broke so I could not go down, I also could not go backward to pick up the bike a bit earlier because everything was broken in pieces. I had to wait. It was quite a lot of time.”
“I thought that the race was over because when I looked back, I knew that there were thousands of groups. In a race like this, it’s not like the next bike is around the corner and you can go on.”
He paced up and down, unsure what to do with his expensive but now useless piece of machinery, peering down the road like a kid whose parents had forgotten to pick him up from school. A painful wait later, he was given a new bike and sent him on his way, but he had already lost two minutes on a group that contained almost all of the pre-race favourites.
The Swiss rider had to perform a relay race of sorts, hopping from teammate to teammate over the next 36 kilometres to make it back to the front group.
“It’s not a chase behind a car or a moto or on a climb, it’s just a chase back by team support and in all the small groups I had some riders, and they slowly dropped out. On the radio we said that Jasper [Stuyven] and Boy [Van Poppel] stay in the front, don’t move and just stay on the wheel and we see what happens,” he explained. “I talk about the whole team; everyone was great. I think that’s important. We go home without the win, but we go home with some pride because of the effort I did.”
It looked like Cancellara might be about to set himself up for a great victory, but the chase had taken its toll. When the group split going up the final ascent of the Tiegemberg, it was all he could do to hang onto the group.
“I made it with Jasper before the second to last climb [the Karnemelkbeekstraat – ed]. When Kwiatkowski and Peter went, I tried to follow, but I had something missing. At least, I didn’t drop out because there was a key moment. I’m happy with the fourth place, but still I race to win. But, when you have a technical problem, and you’re so far back we can still be proud of the way we rode.”