News feature, July 11, 2007
Cancellara swoops with stunning attack
It's often said that wearing a maillot jaune adds strength to a rider, and this certainly seems to be the case with Fabian Cancellara. Last month he won the opening prologue of the Tour de Suisse and rode out of his skin the following two days in defence of his lead. He finished third in a bunch gallop on stage two and then climbed very strongly the next afternoon to remain at the head of affairs.
Cancellara may have taken many of his career wins in the time trial, but put a yellow jersey on his back and he considerably raises his game. Today's race to Compiegne underlined that perfectly. Inspired by his hold on the general classification and also, perhaps, by the fact that he won a Paris-Roubaix which departed from this town, the big Swiss rider thundered over the cobbles just before the final kilometre, shot out of the main bunch shortly afterwards to bridge to the four breakaway riders, then continued on past them to scoop the win.
Erik Zabel (Milram), Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) and Tom Boonen (QuickStep - Innergetic) were closest to him but couldn't get by before the line.
"I didn't think that I could win this stage today," he said afterwards, delighted with his third ever Tour stage victory. "I only wanted to get to the finish and not crash. It was a very long day, seven hours on the bicycle. The wind made it very difficult, we couldn't go any faster. We are not machines.
"I still need to register what I have achieved today," he continued. "I think it was the hardest final kilometre of my life. It is really great to win here in Compiegne, normally the start of Paris Roubaix."
Cancellara said it was nervousness about conceding yellow rather than a Merckx-like ravenous ambition which saw him ride aggressively at the end. "I am in very good condition but I didn't think I could win here," he admitted. "I was mainly scared about losing the jersey because the four riders at the front were riding well and had a good gap.
"My team worked with the other teams of sprinters and they helped me to be here at the front," he said. "I am very happy to be here and to have won this special stage with the yellow jersey."
In Bjarne Riis' absence Kim Andersen is in charge of the team. He's had a great showing thus far, with CSC winning two out of the four stages and holding onto the yellow jersey since the prologue in London.
"It is fantastic, it is a surprise," he said, when asked about Cancellara's win. "It was not planned that he would have a go, but he could see that the jersey was hanging by a few seconds. Fabian is strong, he is powerful and he hadn't worked the whole time. So it was perfect."
Both gave their accounts of what happened, one from the saddle of the CSC Cervelo and the other from the seat of the team car. "I was thinking of being in a good position for the finish," said the rider. "I knew that from 1200 meters to 1000 metres it was difficult [the course] so I just wanted to be in a good position. I was in a good position to do my sprint. But after the bends, before the last kilometre, I saw that some of the riders were very surprised with the right and left turns. I attacked then.
"It was very instinctive, it was what I was feeling at that moment," he added. "It was something that you couldn't programme. It is also something that you couldn't do every day, but today it worked. Once clear, I gave it everything to the finish. I looked back only once. I could see many behind and had to just do it like a track rider [being totally focussed]."
Andersen said that he gave encouragement and information to Cancellara as he was hurtling towards the line. "I saw it on the television [in the team car] so I pushed him on over the radio because I could see there was a gap," he explained. "I was telling him to go, go, keep on going, because the gap was there. He didn't look back, he knew it was possible."
Getting used to yellow:
As Cancellara said after his prologue victory, his luggage went missing on the British Airways flight to London. It still hasn't showed up but at least he doesn't have to worry about lacking jerseys to wear. "I think my bag was taken by somebody as a gift to themselves," he said. "I still have the yellow jersey. We have a big bus and we have space for many yellow jerseys. I hope to keep it for many days yet."
At the press conference he was told that Kim Andersen had said that his victory meant that things could be more difficult for CSC tomorrow. Presumably the thinking is that as the team has taken all the spoils, others may be less willing to contribute to the pace setting. Cancellara dismissed this logic, saying that if others want success, they have to assume the responsibility of working for it.
"I hope to keep the jersey as long as possible," he declared. "Team CSC are going to respect and defend this jersey. I think it is up to the other teams to have something from this cake [ie Tour success]. We work, we do our best, we go with respect in the race. When it is at the finish and the other ones don't win, then it is not up to me, it is up to them.
"Everyone know it is the Tour de France and everybody wants to win," continued Cancellara. "We are not doing something that is not okay. I think we did the right thing today. It is true that today was seven hours and this doesn't happen every day. But when you have the whole day with a headwind, it is true that not everybody wants to ride. They were all saying it was a long day, too long to spend 240 kilometres stage on the front and kill yourself in riding there.
"Tomorrow we will do the same. It is possible that tomorrow is another day where there will be a sprint. It is up to the sprinters to try. We will stay in the front, we will work, but when two riders go and everybody wants to go slow, it is good for us. If they feel the same, then that is fine."
Before then, time for celebrations. But the discipline also remains. "This evening it is sure that we will open a big, big bottle of champagne," he said. "But I think also that despite such a long day in the saddle, we won't eat too much because we don't want the weight to go up. It is better to drink champagne instead."
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