By Brecht Decaluwé in Kortrijk
Ask every team about who they think has the strongest formation for the Ronde van Vlaanderen and there's a good chance that Team CSC will be the most picked squad. The Danish formation led by Bjarne Riis arrived in Flanders with good form and a bag full of confidence built upon the team's wins in Almeria, Tirrenno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, Critérium International and the E3 Prijs Harelbeke.
The Danish formation will be led in the Ronde van Vlaanderen by Fabian Cancellara, whose tall, muscular build and crushing power has earned him the nickname 'Spartacus'. The 27 year-old Swiss has developed from a strong time trial rider into an all-round top-class rider in recent years and right now he is about the strongest rider in the peloton.
He will be supported by '07 Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O'Grady, E3 Prijs Harelbeke winner Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Karsten Kroon, Matti Breschel, Lars Bak, Allan Johansen and Marcus Ljunqvist. In the past the Danish team never managed to get a rider on the podium in the 'Ronde mooiste', but in their last year as Team CSC, they have a silent hope that Cancellara can do the double: winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. On the other hand, winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen with whatever rider is the first goal and that's what everybody is focusing on. Fabian Cancellara is the outright team leader, but the team has the great advantage that they can play some more cards besides the Swiss.
Cancellara wasn't trying to shy away from under his role as a top favourite when Cyclingnews talked him. "Flanders is my main goal and now it's time to go to the start. Team CSC, and especially me, we're ready. With Milano-Sanremo and Tirreno-Adriatico in the pocket, I can be more relaxed than other riders who haven't won anything," Cancellara discretely hinted that his biggest rival for Sunday, Tom Boonen, was still without a big victory this season.
Cancellara was confident that the team would bring him into a perfect position in the finale, but he also felt that he wasn't the only CSC-rider who could win the Ronde van Vlaanderen. "The team is stronger than in Tirreno-Adriatico. Last week in Harelbeke, we showed a perfect race and now, with Karsten we're even stronger. We know we have a lot of pressure, but a lot of other riders are nearly obligated to win, so we know that we're not alone on the road. For example, in Paris-Roubaix last year everybody was looking at me, but although I didn't win it was still CSC that won the race. When everybody is looking at me, then maybe I have to do nothing and the team should play another card," Cancellara explained.
For now, Cancellara is still the man with the best form, so in an honest finale he should be there to battle for a much desired win. "Just like last year I know what to do. Everybody expected my attack in Sanremo, but nobody could react. The same for Flanders: everybody knows that I will attack, but nobody knows when it will happen. Personally, I feel that it is positive for me as it means that the other riders have a lot of respect for what I already achieved."
Sizing up the opposition
When asked if Cancellara knew what the other riders had achieved up until now, he explained that some riders had been hiding. "I've watched some results, but results can only show if someone is strong. Others might not be noticed because they crashed or eased off in the end." Tom Boonen, without a doubt another man to beat on Sunday, was hard for Cancellara to estimate. "Up until last week in the E3-prijs Harelbeke I had only seen him riding at the front in the Omloop Het Volk. The rest of the time he has been training and hiding. But he will be strong, we noticed. Tom will be there. He will not have less pressure than me, because he has still the pressure from everybody and himself. He wants to show that he is still the Tom he used to be."
The area where the finale starts is spread out over three successive hills, according to Cancellara. "Kwaremont, Paterberg and Koppenberg. That's the first important point of the race. From there on it is another race. I can say that I'm happy that the Koppenberg is back in the race. It's like the Poggio and Cipressa in Milano-Sanremo, or the Madeleine and Alpe d'Huez in the Tour de France. We saw the new Koppenberg during a training ride and it's not the same Koppenberg like a few years ago. The special work they did on the Koppenberg was a good idea," Cancellara applauded the work from the local government.
The 27 year-old didn't want to say how and where he would play his cards, but he did explain that he didn't want to start foolish attacks 50 kilometres away from the finish, like he did last year. "I started realizing that if you do too many things like that you might be too tired in the finale. I did the Muur [van Geraardsbergen] once in training and I almost walked it up because it was so slippery. In the race I want to show up at the Muur at a higher speed. Hopefully I'll be alone or with somebody else, because that's the place where it happens," Cancellara said, recalling the attack from Alessandro Ballan and Leif Hoste last year.
When Cyclingnews asked the Swiss if he felt he had a chance in a two-man sprint against Tom Boonen, he talked in guarded terms. "I've beaten Tom before, but maybe I shouldn't be waiting for a sprint, should I," Cancellara bounced the ball back.