Fabian Cancellara heads a three-man Swiss squad into the World Championships Road-Race on Sunday, after skipping the time trial to focus fully on what he considers to be the last major title missing from his palmarès.
However, missing out on Wednesday’s race against the clock is also the last piece in the 33-year-old’s lengthy build-up for Ponferrada - in a jigsaw that stretches back to July or even earlier.
Since the summer, when Cancellara pulled out of the Tour and then rode the Vuelta focussed fully on the World Championships, Sunday’s road-race has been in his sights.
Dropping the time trial arguably represents a logical switch of priorities for Cancellara. Four times a gold medallist and three times a bronze in the men’s time trial since 2004, it is fair to say that, barring the Hour Record, Cancellara has nothing to prove when it comes to racing against the clock. And at the same time, it shouldn’t be forgotten that in the last few years, no- one has been as anywhere near as consistent as Cancellara in one-day racing, either.
Since winning the Tour of Flanders for a first time in 2010, Cancellara has been on the podium on all of the last 12 ‘Monument’ Classics he has finished. His best Road Worlds results, meanwhile, are fourth in 2011 and fifth in 2009. Last year in the Worlds Road Race, after netting bronze in the time trial he took tenth the following Sunday.
“I skipped the time trial [in 2014] because I wanted to focus 100 percent on Sunday’s race,” Cancellara said in a press conference. “On this kind of course, it was better for me to try to ease back after the team time trial.”
“The time trial is an intense effort, and when you have a palmarès like mine, it’s better to skip it.”
“We've followed the plan since the beginning. I am feeling good. I am ready.”
If he is in good shape - and showed that in last Sunday's team time trial - one of the weaker links in Cancellara's game plan for the road-race is that Switzerland can only field three riders. But he recognized that this is hardly a new situation for him, either.
“It's not positive,” he said. “Regarding the rules, we have to live with it.
“We have three riders. We have to ride smart. We have to use the others. We cannot have the team in the front.
“I am not going to say we ride negative. [But] The other big nations have nine riders.”
On the plus side for Switzerland is the fact that, like Cancellara, both of his Swiss teammates - Michael Albasini and Danilo Wyss - are hugely experienced pros. (Curiously enough, Albasini is one of the few riders in Sunday’s who has won in Ponferrada before, in a stage of the Vuelta back in 2011.)
As for his rivals, Cancellara described the Italian squad as “quite strange, with a lot of new names doing their first Worlds.
“All the big teams have a strong team, with a strong sprinter, but we will see. Each lap will get harder and harder. It's always up or down, so it's going to be an interesting race. It's only 250km, but there is a lot of climbing. I did my homework, and that's important.”
Asked if, at 33, this was his last chance to win the Worlds, Cancellara rejected the idea. “No, there is still next year. But for now, I am only thinking about the race on Sunday.”