Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) is in action at the Tour de Suisse and his national tour ends with a time trial in his hometown of Bern. However, the self-proclaimed Spartacus of cycling is focused on recovery and finding fitness rather than results, after fracturing a vertebra in a crash during the E3 Harelbeke race late in March.
Cancellara missed the cobbled Classics and only returned to racing late last month at the Tour des Fjords in Norway. With the Tour de France looming large on the horizon, Cancellara is happy to be back racing despite a virus hurting his training just before the Tour de Suisse. At 34, he can also feel that the clock is ticking on his career and has no intention of racing for years to come.
"At first I was just happy to ride my bike again but after you’ve trained, trained and trained, you need to race," Cancellara said in an interview with Swiss television channel RSI. "That’s why I decided to race in Norway. Racing gave me those good feeling and quality work that you don’t get in training or even when motor pacing. Things like the first hour of a race, when the break is trying to go away and you’re trying to control the attacks, you can’t recreate those efforts in training.
"It’s not the season I’d hoped for because, after missing the Classics, there’s a big hole. I’m riding the Tour de Suisse with conviction but I got ill before the race and that cut into my training and was a mental blow too. I’ve had to take antibiotics and so everything changed. As a result, I’m going to take whatever comes and we’ll see what happens."
A roller coaster ride in recent years
Cancellara has had a rollercoaster ride in recent years. He has been a dominated presence in the Classics for almost a decade but crashed out of the Tour of Flanders in 2012 and missed Paris-Roubaix. In 2013 he returned to win both monument Classics and won a third Tour of Flanders in 2014. He was hopeful of adding more monuments to his palmarès this season but his crash in E3 Harelbeke has cost him dearly, and he is now chasing his form in time for the Tour de France in the middle of his 16th season as a professional.
"Since 2012 my road has gone up and down, with crashes and injuries or even illness before big races. But if you look at the number of riders (in each race) and the number of kilometres we race, crashes are a tiny percentage," he explained.
"Lots of riders have problems every year or every few years. Until 2012 I hadn’t had any major problems and then it happened. But I’ve never thought if it was down to good or bad things because if you start thinking about things, is time to call it quit."
Cancellara turned 34 in March and has hinted he may retire when his current contract with Trek Factory Racing ends in 2016. He raced with Jens Voigt for several seasons but has no plans to continue racing for as long as the German. With such a rich palmarès, which also includes four world time trial titles, an Olympic gold medal and 61 professional victories.
Young Swiss rider Stefan Küng (BMC) is still only 21, and in his first season at WorldTour level, but has quickly been ordained as the heir to Cancellara’s throne. He won the individual pursuit world title on the track this year and soloed to victory in a rain-soaked stage of the Tour de Romandie in April. He started the Giro d’Italia but crashed during stage 12 to Vicenza, suffering a compression fracture of a vertebra.
Cancellara shrugged off any idea that he and Küng are rivals in any way, but suggested that his younger compatriot has life a little easier in the modern peloton, without going into specific details.
"We’re two different people and we will have different careers," Cancellara said.
"The young generation of riders have things a little bit easier now because when I was young I saw the peloton from the back, not from the front. Now young riders can even fight for victory because a few things have changed in cycling and in sport. It’s nice to compare young and old riders but in truth, we’re all different and everyone has to ride their own road."
I don’t want to race until I’m 40
Cancellara can rightly be satisfied with his own career. He has yet to win the road race world title and seems to have given up on attacking the UCI Hour Record but admits he can feel the passing of time. He has little desire to race until he is 40 years old.
"I’ve two or three things in mind that I’d like to achieve but I’ve been giving it 100% and been in the thick of the action at this level since 2006," he pointed out.
"I’m motivated and if I think of the things I still haven’t achieved, I could race until I was 40. But I don’t want to race until I’m 40. Cycling is my life but there’s a life after cycling too. I’ve got a family and lots of other things in my mind I’d like to think about.
"I can feel that the wheel is turning and that slowly, slowly things are going in a different direction. But of course, I want to decide when I say stop. I believe that’s the best thing that any athlete can decide."