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Cancellara: Sagan will have to cope with burden of pressure

Barry Ryan
December 16, 2013, 10:04,
December 17, 2013, 17:43
First Edition Cycling News, Monday, December 16, 2013
2013 Paris-Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard)

2013 Paris-Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard)

  • 2013 Paris-Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard)
  • For the second time in his career, Fabian Cancellara stood on the top step on the Tour of Flanders podium.
  • Tour of Flanders favourites Fabian Cancellara, left, and Tom Boonen chat on the start line.
  • Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) on the podium after winning the stage 11 time trial at the Vuelta a Espana

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Swiss talks classics at Trek Factory Racing camp

A hotel in Benidorm in December will always be out of season no matter how it is dressed. The coastal town is all but shut down as the year draws to a close, and the Christmas decorations that deck the bar of the Albir Playa Hotel are at odds with the watery afternoon sunshine flooding through the windows.

Yet as Fabian Cancellara casts his mind dreamily to what he likes to describe as cycling's Christmas Week – the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – the setting seems strangely apt. Far from the madding crowds of Belgium, Cancellara and his Trek Factory Racing teammates are beginning their preparations in earnest for the spring.

The tweaks to the to the Ronde course have aroused plenty of interest over the winter, but it is Cancellara's battle with ghosts of Christmas Weeks Past and Future that will quicken pulses come the first week in April. His old foe Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) makes a welcome return after an injury-plagued 2013, while his burgeoning rivalry with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) dominated last spring's headlines.

"I still expect a great Tom. I have great respect for him, I've known him a long time and you can't have him missing from those races – it's like food without salt," Cancellara told Cyclingnews of Boonen, effusive in his praise of the other half of the Old Firm that has dictated terms and conditions over the cobbles for the best part of a decade.

In Sagan, Cancellara found a readymade replacement for the unfortunate Boonen this year, and they duly divided the cobbled classics between them – Flanders, Roubaix and E3 Harelbeke for the Swiss, Gent-Wevelgem for the young pretender. Their clash had the added dynamic, of course, of pitting the upstart Sagan against the patrician Cancellara, who made little secret of his unease at the youngster's penchant for exuberant victory celebrations.

"I think the big difference between us is that he is very young. Young riders have less pressure and are a bit colder in the sense that they think less and just do things," Cancellara said, before pointing out that Sagan's early success gives rise to ever increasing expectations.

"It's never easy when a young rider wins a lot of races, it's clear that things change, and the thing that changes the most and becomes most difficult is the pressure. The pressure becomes greater and I've sometimes seen Peter lose races, not because he wasn't strong, but maybe because the pressure weighed on him. Pressure is a very heavy burden to carry."

The snow-interrupted Milan-San Remo, where Sagan was surprisingly beaten into second place by Gerald Ciolek, was perhaps the instance Cancellara had in mind. "Everybody thought he would [win] and I don't want to say how many people would have bet on him to do it in that situation. But I'll say this – he is beatable. That's important. I know where and I know how," Cancellara said, batting away the inevitable follow-up: "I won't say how…"

Trek Factory Racing

Within the confines of the rebooted Trek Factory Racing squad, Cancellara carries his own burden, that of team leadership, but he shakes off the notion that the team's often rocky evolution from Leopard to Trek has seen him completely usurp the Schleck brothers as its totem.

"I never want to hear it said that this is my team. In the end, Luca [Guercilena] is the boss from a sporting point view, and together with [Trek Sports marketing manager] Simon Thompson, they're the guys who decide on things at the team," he said. "Of course, I'm asked what I think of certain riders and whether they'd be good for the classics but I actually didn't say one word about any of the new riders because, in the end, I'm a rider and I have to race."

After enjoying some very significant support at Bjarne Riis' CSC squad, Cancellara found himself more isolated during Leopard Trek's first season in 2011. A solid classics unit has since been assembled around him, culminating in Stijn Devolder and Hayden Roulston's control of the peloton ahead of the finale of the Tour of Flanders, though Cancellara acknowledges that his status within the team brings with it a weighty responsibility.

"In the end, I'm the one who has to work the most. I always remember what [Yaroslav] Popovych told me a couple of years ago – he said he had never had a leader who did less work than he did. For him, if a leader does more than him, it means that he will be able to give more of himself to his leader. But if a leader does less than him, then it becomes harder to work for him. And I understand that."

Cancellara begins his 2014 campaign at the new Dubai Tour in February, followed by the Tour of Qatar and Strade Bianche. As ever, Tirreno-Adriatico will be his final stage race before the classics, while the GP Nobili may also feature on his calendar. "In general terms, it will be the same programme as before, because that's served me well in the past," he said. "It's not exactly a secret that the Worlds are a target later on too, but for now I'm really only looking towards the first part of the season, the classics."

In 2013, Cancellara opted to skip the Tour de France in order to build specifically towards the world championships in Florence, and while the race didn't pan out as anticipated, he declared himself pleased with his approach. On a purely sporting level, one imagines Cancellara would be tempted to forgo the Tour once again, and there is a sense, too, that his achievements at La Grande Boucle – five opening day wins and more total days in yellow (28) than any non-Tour winner in history – have been relegated to something of a footnote.

"I don't know if I'll ride, it depends. I'll have to talk with the team and I have my opinion on the Tour," he said. "I know that the Tour has given me a lot but I've given the Tour a lot too. Still, it's the biggest race in the world."

Ultimately, the decision will not be Cancellara's alone, and it is a similar situation for his possible attempt on the hour record. "It's a thought for now, but I'm not saying much about it because so much has been written about it," he said.

"Right now, I'm just thinking about my general condition and the team, which is all new, and we can't follow a thousand different projects straightaway. The important thing is the classics and then that the team works well beyond the classics to the end of the year."

ETbikes 11 months ago
Hmm... mentioning Cancellara and Sagan in the same sentence is really a stretch... I know... Fabian is older, and has won more Spring Classics and major tour stages than Sagan... So, I guess time will tell... Like Fabian, Sagan is very strong. But, like most articles state he's a sprinter. Sagan IS NOT a true sprinter, if, his team positions him correctly, he wins... But, rarely in a head-to-head 1000 meter sprint against Kittel, Greipel or Cav
Uncle_Tod 11 months ago
Sprinters rarely sprint for more than 250 meters let alone 1000 meters...
Cance > TheRest 11 months ago
I can't see a problem in mentioning Cancellara and Sagan in the same sentence. Even though Cance is the best current classics rider, Sagan has definitely proved that he can compete with the best. Sure he doesn't have the same strength as Cancellara, but who does?? Sagan may not be a pure sprinter or a pure classics rider, but that only makes him more entertaining to watch, compared to one dimensional riders like Kittel, Cav and Greipel.
Snitor 11 months ago
Agree with you, but Greipel is more than one dimensional. He is not a freak like Sagan, but he is fun to watch even when not sprinting.
Tony M 11 months ago
Sparticus is dynamic from 10 km out until the last half km. Sagan is still effective in a sprint unless confronted by Cavendish,Greipel ,Kittel or mayby one or two other out and out sprinters. As well as Boonen putting the OPQS jersey to the front at the spring classics I'm expecting Stybar to be an alternate.
Raoul Duke 11 months ago
Sure looking forward to next spring for the Classics!
DiegoTelmo . 11 months ago
Any new young talent to shine this year? In GC there are so many talented young riders each year but in classics i can only remember Sagan and Kwiatkoski. Will anyone surprise us in 2014?
Isaak-Gabriel 11 months ago
Maybe Arnaud Démare, in the cobbled classics like Roubaix
Snitor 11 months ago
Not surprise, but Stybar and Vanmarcke as two of the favorites is something to watch.
Charliez 11 months ago
I believe Edvald Boasson Hagen will ride top 5 in the spring Classics. I was expecting it last year, but as we've all seen , training != racing. Maybe Jürgen Roelandts, he finished 3th in the Rond van Vlaanderen after Cancellara and Sagan.
Zdeno Čeman 11 months ago
Sagan is all-rounder and once-in-a-generation rider. And he will eat them all for breakfast! With salt or without it!
bianchi1885 11 months ago
And he is in the last year of his contract with Cannondale, so he will eat a lot of breakfast this year to maximize his value for 2015 and beyond. If Cancellara is Spartacus ... then Sagan is Galactus.
Charliez 11 months ago
I'm not saying that Sagan could not become Galactus. But let him first start trying to collect the palmares of Spartacus. Don't forget we are talking about 1 x Milaan San Remo 2 x Tour of Flanders 3 x Roubaix 4 x World Champion Time Trail 1 x Olympic Time Trail 2 x National Champion 6 x National Time Trail Champion 2 x Strade Bianche 3 x E3 7 x Tour de France stage races 28 days in the yellow jersey 2 x Vuelta stage races 1 x Tirreno-Adriatico 1 x Tour de Suisse 1 x Tour de Denmark 1 x Tour de Oman That is Spartacus ... I wonder how it must look if one would become Galactus :-)
JackSpoke 11 months ago
Love Spartacus but so much attention and talk of the 'young' Sagan means that he fears him on some level.
denominator 11 months ago
Exactly. If Cance talks about stress and load, in fact he wants to add some to his dangerous oponent. But Sagan's psychics works differently, these mind games will function no more. Fabian may be a little stronger, but he has only one "runaway" card to play. Sagan is much more versatile and that is the source of Cancellara's fears.
Tony M 11 months ago
Tour of Flanders 2013- Sagan had no answer physically or psychologically when Cancellara played his "runaway" card. Unless Sagan has found a "runaway" card of his own or a"superglue" card anything else he may have is well-worthless!
Cance > TheRest 11 months ago
On the other hand it might be a force for Cancellara that he doesnt have the same kind of sprint as Sagan (even though he has a decent sprint), because Boonen would have to be very worried now, since Sagan has a better sprint than him. Boonen+Cance vs Sagan could be a tactical battle, in case Sagan (and Boonen) is strong enough to follow Cance, when he puts down the hammer on the decisive Muur.
Steveo 11 months ago
If only there were a decisive Muur...
PatsyCline 10 months ago
Yes, the mind games have already started. Only problem is Sagan is too busy enjoying himself at the moment to take any notice.
FrogMan 11 months ago
spartacus = electric biker
azureskies 11 months ago
There are many ways for the fox Cancellera to conquer Sagan. Sagan has one card, a sprint. Cancellera can out muscle and out tactic Sagan. Canc and Sagan both know this. Canc dropped Sagan like doughnut grease.
TANK91 11 months ago
Lol you make it sound easier forCancellara, ask anyone its hardefor Cancellara to win than it is Sagan and Boonen. You actually think it not better to have a sprint, if Cancellara had a sprint he would of won more classics. It does not work everytime even Cance and the rest will admit that, next year maybe a diff year who knows. Some may say this a swipe at Spartacus butif u read it in context im saying Cancellara has to work harder. Sagan can follow wheels and next year is a new year how u so sure Sagan will be dropped again on a hill? You do know Sgan is way better on the hills dont you? Next year with and extra years age hindsight would say Sagan will be stronger than he was last year. I hope Sagan does Roubaix. I want Cancellara to have the better Cobbled record than Boonen(even though id say Cance is the better rider) so i would like see him win but in 1 year or 2 years i cant see Cancellara matching Sagan same for Boonen.
Charliez 11 months ago
Which makes sense, don't forget that Boonen and Cancellare are 10 years old then Sagan, meaning a different generation. Tom and Fabian are nearing the end of their careers, Sagan is just starting. At some point in time the torch will be passed... The main question is who will challenge Sagan in the classics when Fabian and Tom retire?
roberthightowerjr 10 months ago
I can see into the future. Sagan at age 34 will same things about the next great stud of classic racing. goes around, comes around eh?