10 years of Fabian Cancellara's storied Tour de France career
Swiss rider second only to Froome in days in maillot jaune of current peloton
Fabian Cancellara has decided to bring his highly successful cycling career to an end this season, and will compete in the Tour de France for the final time in July.
Cyclingnews looks back on the Swiss star's past 10 Tour de France starts from his prologue victory in 2004 to his devastating crash while wearing the maillot jaune for the 29th day last year.
2004 Tour de France - A star is born
Racing for Fassa Bortolo, Fabian Cancellara made his team's Tour de France squad for the first time after impressing both in 2003 - when he won the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse prologues - and early in 2004 with stage wins in the Tour of Qatar, Setmana-Catalana, and Tour of Luxembourg and a fourth place in Paris-Roubaix.
It's no surprise that even at 23 he went into his first Grand Tour with quite a bit of confidence. He said at the time, "It's my first time at the Tour and there are a lot of great riders here but in a time trial, I'm not afraid of anyone man against man. The fastest one wins."
After his victory, the weight of the maillot jaune on his shoulders, he struggled to find words to describe his emotions. "It's very difficult to say what I really think. I'm a very emotional guy. I can't hide my feelings. To have the yellow jersey is really, really great."
Cancellara lost the jersey on stage 2 to Thor Hushovd, who earned enough time bonuses to get the race lead by eight seconds, but swapped his yellow jersey for the white of best young rider. Cancellara almost took the yellow jersey back the following day on stage 3 when Hushovd was caught on the wrong end of a split in the peloton. Had Robbie McEwen not taken third and a four-second time bonus, Cancellara would be equal to Chris Froome with 30 days in the maillot jaune this year. He was one second off yellow, but a team time trial on the next stage ended any chances for regaining the race lead, and pushed him out of the best young rider classification.
2005 Tour de France - White jersey
Cancellara was unable to repeat his performance of the previous year, finding the 19km opening stage time trial too long for his liking. He finished a distant 7th, more than a minute behind David Zabriskie (who, along with Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie would later lose their 1st, 2nd and 4th places, respectively). However, Cancellara was the best young rider on the stage, and kept the white jersey for three days until the team time trial on stage 4 once again pushed him out of the rankings.
2007 Tour de France - Triumph in Compiegne
Cancellara moved to Team CSC in 2006, and was likely breathing a huge sigh of relief for not making the Tour de France team, after his teammate and GC hopeful Ivan Basso became embroiled in the mayhem surrounding Operación Puerto and was eventually pulled from the squad.
When he returned to the Tour de France in 2007, Cancellara crushed the competition in the prologue in London, and held onto the maillot jaune for seven straight stages until the Col de la Colombière got in his way on stage 7.
However, it was his incredibly well-timed and powerful attack in the final kilometre in the stage to Compiegne that stands out as one of Cancellara's finest Tour de France moments. The 236.5km largely flat stage was raced at a tedious 35kph, with the breakaway finally being brought back in the final straightaway, and the sprinters fully expecting to be battling for the victory. But Cancellara spoiled their party, going clear with 750m to go to take his only Tour de France victory on a road stage.
"It is fantastic, it is a surprise," his directeur sportif Kim Andersen said at the time. "It was not planned that he would have a go, but he could see that the jersey was hanging by a few seconds. He is strong, he is powerful and he hadn't worked the whole time. So it was perfect."
To date, that victory is Cancellara's only non-time trial Tour de France stage win.
2008 Tour de France - The team player, and a belated stage victory
In 2008, the Tour de France began with three road stages before the first time trial, so Cancellara's chances of taking the yellow jersey again were much reduced. With a breakaway of four getting two minutes on stage 3, it became nearly impossible for Cancellara, even as the reigning world champion in the time trial, to take the maillot jaune on the stage 4 time trial. It was German Stefan Schumacher who surprised to take the stage victory and the yellow jersey, with Cancellara half a minute off the lead.
Instead, the Swiss rider devoted himself to riding in service of Andy and Frank Schleck, and, when he rode into the race lead on Alpe d'Huez, eventual race winner Carlos Sastre. By the time the race got to the second time trial on stage 20, Cancellara was tired.
"I've used a lot of energy at the Tour and today was one of the hardest stages," he said in Montluçon on the evening before the time trial. "There was no rest as it was the last chance for many riders to win something."
He finished the time trial second to Schumacher by 21 seconds. The German would later be banned for doping and stripped of that result, giving Cancellara the stage victory two years later.
After a year without time spent on the podium, other than helping Sastre celebrate his overall victory in Paris, Cancellara came into the 2009 Tour de France with the overall Tour de Suisse victory on the books, three time trial wins in the season, and more motivation than ever to reclaim his status in the race.
He won the 15km time trial in Monaco on the opening stage over Alberto Contador and Bradley Wiggins and then kept the race lead for six straight days.
Most notably, the team time trial on stage 4 for once did not scuttle Cancellara's time in the yellow jersey, even though his Saxo Bank team lost 40 seconds to Astana. Thanks to a split in the crosswinds on stage 3 and an internal war that saw Alberto Contador left behind in the echelons, Cancellara moved into the yellow jersey. Most notably, he denied Lance Armstrong the triumphant return to the maillot jaune he so desired. It turned out that the time Armstrong lost in the opening time trial to Cancellara swung the overall standings in favour of the Swiss rider when fractions of seconds were calculated.
Cancellara finally gave up the jersey on stage 7 to Andorra Arcalis, but not before putting on the performance of a lifetime chasing back through the following cars on a descent after puncturing twice.
In 2010, it seemed Cancellara could do no wrong: victories in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix and a prologue win in Tour de Suisse boded well for the Tour de France, and the Swiss rider did not disappoint. He crushed the prologue in Rotterdam, topping Tony Martin by 10 seconds, then once again held the race lead for six stages.
There was just one blip - he gave up the lead to Sylvain Chavanel on stage 2, when the Frenchman soloed to the stage win by almost four minutes. But on the next stage, Cancellara was on familiar terrain, pounding over the pave on the stage from Wanze to Arenberg. Although he missed out on the stage win to Thor Hushovd, Cancellara made the front group, and moved back into yellow.
Cancellara finally let go of the race lead on the first mountain stage, but he wasn't quite done with his podium appearances - he won the time trial on stage 19 over Tony Martin, all the while working in service of Andy Schleck, who would later be named race winner after the disqualification of Alberto Contador.
2011 Tour de France - Shut out
Cancellara followed the Schleck brothers to the nascent Leopard Trek team in 2011, and raced the Tour de France wholly in service of their GC ambitions. He helped to limit the team's losses in the team time trial on stage 4, and got as close as seventh overall, but that was as close as he got to the maillot jaune.
His efforts helped to keep Andy Schleck in a podium position, but Schleck ultimately lost the jersey to Cadel Evans in the final time trial.
2012 Tour de France - Seven is the lucky number
After crashing in the Tour of Flanders and breaking his collarbone, Cancellara spent six weeks out of competition, so it was quite the surprise when he won the prologue of the Tour de France over Bradley Wiggins, once again in Liège, the scene of his first Tour de France triumph. While his career's first stint in yellow ended quickly, this time around Cancellara savoured seven days in the race lead, thanks in large part to the absence of time bonuses in the week of sprint stages.
Cancellara gave up the maillot jaune on the first mountain stage to Wiggins, who had been in second place at seven seconds since the prologue, but Cancellara was able to write his name into the history books as the rider with the most days in the yellow jersey while having never won the Tour overall. Cancellara dropped out of the race after stage 11 to be with his wife who would soon give birth to their second child.
2014 Tour de France - Breaking away
After skipping the Tour de France in 2013 in order to focus on the World Championships in Florence, Cancellara returned with the Trek Factory Racing team in 2014 not with an eye on time trials - there was only one on stage 20 - but aiming for a stage victory, in particular the cobbled stage 5 to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut.
He made a move late on a lumpy stage 2 in Yorkshire that was reeled in by the sprinters' teams, but wanted to give it a go as his team lacked a real GC contender.
"We're underdogs here. We have all different kinds of riders and we have nothing to lose. I think it was a good start and things can only get better. There's no point in just sitting in the bunch. You don't win or gets results doing that," he said.
A rainy stage to Arenberg didn't go his way. He tried again on stage 9, entering into a large breakaway on the way to Mulhouse, but Tony Martin had already slipped away and held off the chasers to remain in the lead for some 150km until he won the stage. Cancellara led the group to the line for second place.
Ultimately the 2014 Tour de France was a wash for Cancellara, and he dropped out after stage 10 to begin preparation for the World Championships.
2015 Tour de France - High highs and low lows
Cancellara's brief stint in the 2015 Tour de France began with a strong performance in the opening time trial in Utrecht, where he was only six seconds off the winning time of Rohan Dennis. On the next day, Cancellara attentively made the front group when the peloton shattered in the crosswinds on the way to Neeltje Jans, while Dennis was left behind with many of the overall contenders.
While Team Sky drove the pace for Chris Froome and Etixx-Quickstep pulled for Tony Martin, who was second in the time trial and stood to gain the maillot jaune should the group stay clear, Cancellara had something special up his sleeve. The Swiss rider followed sprinter Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan to the line to take the four-second time bonus, and slipped into the race lead ahead of Martin by three seconds.
The glory would be short-lived, as Cancellara was involved in a massive pile-up the next day en route to Huy. He finished the stage more than 11 minutes behind and in agony. He discovered later that night that he had fractured to bones in his spine - similar to injuries he sustained in the E3 Harelbeke earlier in the year.
With his maillot jaune record at 29 days, and seven stage wins, Cancellara is one of the most successful Tour de France riders of his generation. While the route does not favour more days in yellow - it begins with a week of lumpy road stages, Cancellara will be eyeing stage 16 from Moirans-en-Montagne that finishes in Bern, not far from where he was born.
Trek has done special paint jobs for Cancellara for each of the Classics. We're quite sure his machine will get the same treatment come July.
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Managing Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks. Laura's specialises in covering doping, anti-doping, UCI governance and performing data analysis.
By Barry Ryan