When Fabian Cancellara sat down with the assembled press at the Tour of Qatar in February and announced that he would race for another two seasons before retiring from the sport few would have foreseen one of those cobbled classics campaigns being wiped out through injury.
However on a relatively innocuous stretch of E3 Harelbeke the unthinkable happened. By the time the reigning Tour of Flanders winner picked himself off the floor the writing must have already been on the wall and according to his director, Dirk Demol, he could hardly stand, let alone pedal.
Scans later showed two minor fractures in the transverse processes of his lower vertebrae and Trek Factory Racing later confirmed that their leader would be out of action for the remainder of the spring.
Understandably Demol could not hide his disappointment and frustration at the finish line, having seen his team’s talisman crash out of the cobbles for second time since 2012.
“I knew immediately that it was terrible," Demol said, still in a sense of shock.
“He couldn’t stand let alone pedal but he tried to continue but when he was by the car he was screaming in pain and then you know there’s something really wrong.”
Initial reports suggested that the crash would force Cancellara to miss Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem but as news of the full prognosis began to filter through via the team and Sporza the magnitude of the situation began to clear.
“It’s a pity and it’s a shame but we had crashes in Strade Bianche with Jasper Stuyven then two days ago Stijn Devolder crashed really bad but if you lose your leader like we did today it’s hard to take,” Demol added.
“What can you do? We had big ambitions at the start of the season with Fabian and just behind him we had Stuyven and Devolder. So it’s hard to take but we have to see how we can fight back and make the best of it.”
Demol nursed the team through a similar situation in 2012 after Cancellara broke a collarbone at the Tour of Flanders. However that unlucky episode came further into the campaign, while he misfortune in E3 leaves the team exposed and significantly weaker with Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders and Paris-Roubaix still to come.
So soon after the crash there were few if any positives for Demol to draw on but he praised Cancellara’s teammates and admitted that the squad will aim to regroup. As for Cancellara, May appears to be the earliest point at which he might return to racing.
“We just have to wait and see. I still believe that we have strong team but mentally it’s hard to take because they were waiting and listening over the radio and asking if it was bad. We’ll make the best of it but it’s not going to be easy. I’ll see him tonight at the hotel and then plan to rebuild with him, maybe for the Tour de France but it’s too early to say.”
“The only thing you can do with this injury is rest and wait. It’s difficult to say when he can come back but it’s probably some time in May.”