Cramps costly for Cancellara at Ponferrada Worlds

Swiss rider forced to settle for 11th place

No matter how lofty his palmarès, a Classics rider builds up a healthy tolerance for disappointment in an endeavour where heartbreak will always outweigh happiness. Yet as Fabian Cancellara crossed the line in Ponferrada on Sunday, there was a sense that his low-key showing in the elite men's road race at the World Championships cut deeper than any number of near misses on the Lungomare Italo Calvino or Roubaix velodrome over the years.

The tell-tale sign came in the mixed zone immediately afterwards. Cancellara is typically as loquacious in defeat as he is in victory, always willing to dissect the finale of a race regardless of its outcome, but on Sunday afternoon, he rode straight through, his gaze fixed downwards.

With a provisional retirement date pencilled in for 2016, Cancellara is aware that time is running out if he is to become world road race champion, and through the entire second half of the season, his mind had been fixed on Ponferrada and Ponferrada alone.

The signals from the Vuelta a España were promising, but on the big day, Cancellara was – for once – marked absent. Unable to follow Michal Kwiatkowski’s winning move on the descent of Confederacion, nor Philippe Gilbert and Simon Gerrans when they led the chase on the final climb of Mirador, Cancellara had to settle for 11th place.

After showering aboard the Trek Factory Racing bus – on loan to the Swiss federation for the week – Cancellara emerged for a brief exchange with the reporters gathered outside, explaining that he had been suffering from cramps in the finale.

“When you have to stay seated on the climbs because of a cramp, there’s not much you can do,” Cancellara said with resignation. “I don’t really have a lot to say. That’s the way it was.”

By dint of a quirk of the UCI points system, Cancellara had just two teammates for company in Ponferrada, but he refused to reach for excuses, pointing out that Michael Albasini and Danilo Wyss had both performed very strongly.

“Michael did great work, Danilo was always with me, our tactics were great. We did everything right,” he said. “With the change in temperature, maybe that didn’t favour me, but listen, that’s the way it was.

“I know where I should have been when Kwiatkowski went but if you don’t have the legs you wanted, what else can you do? I’m certainly a bit disappointed, but that’s normal. In the end, I gave everything and I don’t think I could have done anything else. That’s sport.”

Cancellara cut short another question from a Swiss-Italian television crew – “basta,” he said sadly – and then dutifully repeated his account of the afternoon for a group of German-speaking reporters.

His trade and national team manager Luca Guercilena sang from the same hymn sheet, refusing to use the lack of support as a prop or seek to concoct an excuse from his build-up. After finding in Cancellara’s favour so often in the past, the verdict of the road was against the Swiss on this occasion.

“It’s sure that it would have been better with nine but in the end Albasini and Wyss did their work very, very well,” Guercilena. “We didn’t waste energy for no reason, and Alba was really in superb condition, he was trying to follow the moves, and then after that he worked on the front to bring the break back in the finale. But in the finale, we weren’t able to make the difference.

“And it’s not a question of doing the Canadian races instead of the Vuelta either. Today we didn’t have the legs and there’s not much to say.”

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