Flanders is twice as hard for Sagan, says defending champion
Less than 48 hours ahead of the Tour of Flanders the Trek Factory Team gave a press conference in the team’s hotel on the outskirts of Bruges. Team leader Fabian Cancellara and his lieutenant Stijn Devolder took questions from a big group of international journalists that attended the press conference. A somewhat uncertain Cancellara and Devolder each have two Flanders wins in their palmarès and both are keen on adding a third title to that list. A third win would put them equal with five other riders including Belgian’s cycling star Tom Boonen.
When Cancellara was asked whether he had a possible record-equalling third win in Flanders on his mind, the 33-year-old Swiss rider acted surprised. “Maybe now because you mention it. I wasn’t thinking on that. I was just thinking about the race and not the side effects. Thank you for mentioning it.”
Other things have been worrying Cancellara. In contrast to previous years, he lacks a win at any of the Spring Classics before Flanders. Cancellara mentioned that he had mixed feelings on the bike after Gent-Wevelgem.
“During training, or better cruising, it was weird. I was not happy. There were a lot of questions. ‘Am I ready?’ There were a lot of questions I could not answer. Then I had a few phone calls and some chats with people who know. All the questions I had were answered. That’s why I’m really relaxed. Since Tuesday I’m fully concentrated. That was a very big key point. In the end it’s just a bike race with a number on your back. I have won it and can handle the pressure. Other riders haven’t won it and waste energy because they lack the experience. It’s everything around it, including the thousands, millions of people who are watching it.”
It seems incredible that a rider like Cancellara is uncertain after the form he displayed in the E3 Harelbeke, bouncing back from the bunch crash that threw him backwards in the race. “It’s the win that stands out. I often came here after winning [E3] Harelbeke in a special way. I come to this Tour of Flanders without a big win, but even without a win I know how to win it,” Cancellara said. Despite his worries he felt that Peter Sagan was probably more worried than him. Sagan won the E3 Harelbeke for the first time and a stage in the VDK-Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde.
“He has not won this race. It’s twice as hard for him. I know his qualities but also his weaknesses. If you don’t do something it’s not possible to win. I’m lucky to have won this race on multiple occasions already. I have the experience. I know what it takes.”
One other rider who knows what it takes is Tom Boonen. Many journalists asked about the battle between the two top guns. Cancellara played down the expectations for a big duel between him and Boonen. “It’s been two months now that people talk about it. He will be there despite his personal problems. In every big race he was there. I expect a battle with him but also with other big riders. Like so many big duels they often don’t happen. There will be a big battle but it’ll be a different battle,” Cancellara said.
Cancellara claimed Sagan was the number one favourite and added more names such as Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol), Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) and the whole Omega-Pharma-Quick-Step team. The rider that stood out the most for him was Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step). “The biggest wow-moment up until now in the Spring Classics was from Niki Terpstra at Dwars door Vlaanderen,” Cancellara said.
He claimed that thanks to the good weather during the build-up to Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, many riders have good form. “The amount of riders with a top condition is large. I have to focus on myself. Get the best out of myself. Too much looking around is not good. It takes you off balance. The big thing for me is that I can be relaxed on Sunday at the start. The last few races there have been so many riders injured and sick, things have changed and that’s why I haven’t looked so much at these races. I did the right choice.”
Having someone like Stijn Devolder in his team has comforted Cancellara. Devolder was a lieutenant in the QuickStep team with Boonen and since last year he’s been flanking Cancellara. The pick order in the Trek team still has Cancellara on top but Devolder was as keen as the Swiss rider for another win.
“I will do the same like I did those years and last year. With QuickStep we had the leader with Boonen and now with Fabian. Like last year I will do the work but the race always decides how it will work out in the end,” Devolder said.
Cancellara said he did not have such a strong rider next to him when he won in 2010. He felt that having Devolder next to him was a huge asset for the team.
“It’s even a better situation for me. Stijn gives me and the team another card. Of course I come to the start line and want to win but in the end the team wants to win. In the past everybody was looking at me. Everybody goes behind me. We took note of that and for us it’s a better situation. The biggest stress will be on other riders,” Cancellara said.
Though for many people Paris-Roubaix rates higher than Flanders, the French one-day classic was not on Cancellara’s mind. “It’s Christmas week. The focus will be just on Sunday. After Sunday we will see what comes.”