By Gregor Brown in Kortrijk, Belgium
Fabian Cancellara knows what it is like to win the world's biggest races: Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix and stages of the Tour de France. More recently, however, he's had a string of setbacks and bad luck which have kept the thrill of victory in the past. Despite everything, the Saxo Bank star still has the desire to win in Sunday's "Hell of the North".
"I hope to show Sunday I have more than fire, that I have rockets on," he said to Cyclingnews Friday afternoon.
Cancellara's first experience on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix came in 2003 with Fassa Bortolo, and was without fanfare. But just three years later, he returned to stand on the top step of the podium.
"As a child, I remember the races of Museeuw, Ballerini and Tafi. I don't want to say it was as a dream to be there, but when I became professional I had the possibility to ride there. I rode it, but really badly. I was sad, but yet happy to have done it.
"I had lacked the winning fire, but I showed the year later that I was there, with my fourth place."
Cancellara's time to shine came in 2006 when he escaped with 16km to go and soloed to victory.
This year, the Swiss rider crashed in early March in training and injured his right shoulder blade. Though there were no fractures, it set him back in his preparation for the Spring Classics. He was only able to return to racing last week.
In Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen he showed that he could still be counted in as a dark horse for victory in Roubaix. He was riding strong until a broken chain took him out of the action on the Koppenberg climb. In dismal conditions at Wednesday's Gent-Wevelgem he made the initial escape group, but a flat tyre and other problems later ruled him out for the finale.
Despite the bad luck, the other favourites know they cannot count Cancellara out.
"It is nice when people say it [that I am a favourite], like 'Pippo' [Pozzato] said. He is the guy who is strong and he may be better than me on paper, but we know that Roubaix is different. I know how to win and how to be there.
"But the list of favourites is long, you have [Tom] Boonen, you have [George] Hincapie, [Leif] Hoste, you have so many. However, the people with the great condition may not always win, this opens the doors for me in this Hell of the North.."