It's one of the highlights of the entire professional cycling season and a race that is close to his heart, but Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) has revealed that he and his fellow pros are nervous at, and also slightly confused by, the crucial and fundamental changes that have been made to the parcours for the 2012 Tour of Flanders.
This year's race will see the controversial omission of the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen climb; three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont and the steep Paterberg in the finale; and a finish in the town of Oudenaarde instead of Meerbeke, where the race has finished since 1973. The changes have led to widespread criticism, with many fans, commentators and former winners accusing the race administrators of riding roughshod over the fabled history of the great event. Cancellara, the 2010 winner of the race, has his own very strong views on the matter.
"This year at Flanders, because of the changes to the parcours, it’s going to be a different and very difficult race compared to previous years," the RadioShack-Nissan rider told Cyclingnews.
"When you look this year, with the change in the parcours, in my opinion the Paterberg - because it’s going to be the last climb of the day - will be harder and do more damage than the Muur and the Bosberg. After many kilometres, a short and really steep climb like this will make a huge difference. It already makes a huge difference when you go through it after just 180km, so if you think about it it’s going to be very tough to go through it at the end.
"In the last few years the race has been hard from Kwaremont through to Tenbosse. After that it became easier with just two climbs and it was a lot flatter. Now with this change it’s like a totally different race."
Cancellara revealed that the changes have had him and his fellow riders scratching their head and searching for answers as to why such a historic race has been tampered with in such a dramatic way. The answers they appear to have found take into account the interests of the money men and the spectators rather than the riders and the precious heritage of the sport. For Cancellara, it is symptomatic of the changes that have occurred in the sport in recent years and increasing globalisation.
"People are scared," he said. "There’s a lot of ‘why?’ also. Why have they changed the history of this race? I guess cycling is becoming worldwide now. I mean, California is growing huge and so is the Tour Down Under, China is getting bigger. And on the other side, some of the big Italian races that I knew when I was younger are now being overshadowed. The traditions of the sport are counting for less and now on they have changed something crucial. So there is a big why. Is it just to make it harder? Is it just to make money? Is it because of politics and business? Or is it just to see more spectacular things in the race? These are the questions but I am not the organisers so I don’t know the answers.
"I am just the rider and we can talk more about this after the race. For sure the spectators will be happy. They will see us going up those two climbs three times. As we do those new laps there will be massive crowds, even more than previous years as they will have more opportunities to see us up close. When it’s a solution that’s good for everybody then ok. But it’s more for the fans than the riders. But right now, until the race is over, you can’t say it’s good or it’s bad, you have to just get on with it. We have no choice and we all still want to win it."