By holding its presentation in Roubaix’s covered Vélodrome Jean Stablinski, a stone’s throw from the outdoor track that hosts the finale of Paris-Roubaix, Trek Factory Racing signalled not just a change in ownership, but a definitive shift in the dynamic of the team.
When Leopard Trek, the squad that begat Trek Factory Racing, saw the light three years ago, the ceremony was conducted with considerable pomp at Luxembourg’s d'Coque arena, underlining emphatically that this was to be Fränk and Andy Schleck’s band. In that light, the revamped team’s decision to hold its 2014 launch in Fabian Cancellara’s cobbled fiefdom was tantamount to his investiture as outright leader.
Not that the man himself saw it as such. Press officer Tim Vanderjeugd gently chided the media for directing the majority of their questions at Cancellara during Friday afternoon’s press conference, and the Swiss was keen to stress that while he is the leading player, he is by no means in sole creative control.
"I don’t know how much you want to think I was involved in this whole case," Cancellara said of the transition that saw Trek purchase the Leopard WorldTour licence from erstwhile backer, Flavio Becca.
"First, Trek made its own decision and said on its own, ‘we’re going to go on with something new.’ It’s not taking over the whole thing because this is a brand new team and a new adventure. I talked with [manager] Luca [Guercilena] and I said that’s the direction I want to go in, but on the end I really left it to them to make the team.
"What really counts is this is not my team. The team would be there even without me, and I think the best thing now is that they are taking over everything and they have everything in hand with Luca on the sports side."
Flanders and Roubaix
Trek Factory Racing’s day began with a mass participation ride from Oudenaarde over some of the key climbs of the Tour of Flanders and concluded with the presentation at the Roubaix velodrome. After a winter of speculation over Cancellara’s purported hour record bid, it was a stark reminder not to put the cart before the horse – for the next few months at least, all roads lead back to this redbrick suburb of Lille.
"I still have a lot of ambitions, not just one or two. There is a project, but we don’t know if it will happen this year or not," Cancellara said of the hour record. "But the first step is the Classics and then we will see what’s next. It’s in mind, but we’ll see."
In any case, before battling time, Cancellara will first have to fend off the emerging generation of young talent on the pavé. With Tom Boonen, he has dominated the Classics landscape for the bones of a decade, but that duopoly faces the prospect of renewed insurgence from two riders in particular in 2014 – Peter Sagan, who finished second to Cancellara at last year’s Tour of Flanders, and Sep Vanmarcke, his dauphin in Roubaix.
"I mean, I’m 14 years a professional rider and I don’t say I’m old like Jens [Voigt] but I have a certain age on my shoulder and it’s normal in sport that you have a young, coming generation," Cancellara said. "I try to get the best out of myself. Of course it gives an extra motivation because you don’t want to get beaten by such young riders, but that’s how it is, and that’s why we keep going and working with our experience."
The spring, of course, will also see the see the rekindling of Cancellara’s enduring rivalry with Boonen. Though now 32 and 33 years old, respectively, like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed, the pair remains some way short of hearing that final bell. Indeed, for all the familiarity of the pairing, there will be something novel when they spar on the cobbles this spring, for it is now three years since they last faced off in the finale of the Tour of Flanders.
Cancellara’s crash in the 2012 Ronde and Boonen’s early fall in the same race a year later meant that the two riders have yet to test one another on the new finale over the Kwaremont and Paterberg to Oudenaarde. Boonen, of course, was the first winner there in 2012, while Cancellara responded in kind last year, and there is a particular fascination to see who would have the upper hand when both men are fit and in the race.
"I always look forward to big races. Of course, for the media and the public, it’s a big thing but it’s not just me and Tom," Cancellara said. "That’s what makes racing special: nothing is predictable. I respect him a lot. Of course I didn’t want to see him on the ground but I was on the ground the year before. Sport is not predictable."