Marbella in August may be one of Europe's holiday epicentres but for Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), the Vuelta a España's start on the Costa del Sol signalled a return to what he described with gallows humour as "pain, suffering and normal business."
Ill fortune, certainly, has been a regular item on Cancellara’s agenda this year. The Vuelta is his first competitive outing since he abandoned the Tour de France after sustaining fractured vertebrae in a crash while wearing the yellow jersey on stage 3, and it was his second time to suffer such an injury this season after the fall at E3 Harelbeke that ruined his spring.
To compound matters, Cancellara suffered from illness in the week leading up to the Vuelta, though with the 2017 campaign as much as the upcoming Richmond World Championships in mind, he was loath to forgo the opportunity to ride a Grand Tour.
"Did I miss it? Well, I don't miss suffering and pain, crashes and sickness, I've had enough of those already," Cancellara said of his lay-off on Saturday evening. "But now the Vuelta starts and you hope little things will be different regarding everything."
Cancellara's return to action on Saturday evening took place in the most unusual of circumstances, as the Vuelta's opening 7.4-kilometre team time trial along the seafront from Puerto Banús was neutralised due to concerns over the safety of the route.
That decision was only taken at the meeting of directeurs sportifs on the eve of the race, and like Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Cancellara expressed irritation that the route of the opening stage of a Grand Tour had not been reconnoitred and approved (or otherwise) far earlier.
"Today was a bit of a circus. I don't have a problem with things like that but I have a problem when ASO are disorganised and everything changes at the last minute," Cancellara said. "We are in one of the famous spots in Spain, Marbella. Everyone knows this place, it has a good name and that's why I feel bad. It could have been done earlier, I think."
For the record, Cancellara and his Trek Factory Racing team finished the time trial in sixth place, 11 seconds down on winners BMC. The Swiss rider did not appear to feel the course has been unduly dangerous, but pointed out that an individual test would have been more appropriate.
"It would have been better to have an individual time trial, probably. It is what it is and we did what we could do and now the Vuelta starts," he said. "It was actually not dangerous, I had one slip on one corner, but I knew it was going to be difficult. Of course this morning, the road through the sand was a bit better but now after all the bikes and cars have been through, it's like the slalom on a ski slope."
Cancellara has already hinted that he will retire when his current contract expires at the end of the 2016 campaign, meaning that he might have just two more opportunities – in Richmond next month and in Doha next year – to win the world road race title that he so craves. At this juncture, however, the 34-year-old is unsure of what state of form he can attain in the five weeks that separate him from the last Sunday in September.
"First I’m looking at the Vuelta then I'll see later on how it goes with the preparation, condition, fatigue and all of that," Cancellara said. "I had a tough year and I hope the head has enough suffering left. That's the question mark and I don't know but this is not where I'm looking now. I'm just looking going through the stages now.
"I'm old enough and I have experience, but even so this experience I went through last year was quite new. I've been trying to stay calm all the time but with the roller-coaster with sickness and crashes it's not been easy."
To subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel, click here.