By Gregor Brown in Stuttgart, Germany
Fabian Cancellara claimed gold for the second consecutive year on Thursday, conquering the World Championship Time Trial in Stuttgart, Germany. The 26 year-old rose above damp weather and a daunting course to scorch the 44.9 kilometre course, 52 seconds faster than his nearest competitor, Hungarian Laszlo Bodrogi.
"This year was more difficult because the pressure was higher, the course was harder - but in the end I gave it all I had and everything worked out fine. I'm very happy. Last year was hard, I thought that I was not in the same condition, but I did all that was possible. My goal was to defend my title. For sure, tonight, we are going to drink a glass of champagne, or more!"
Heavy rains dampened the course early Thursday morning, soaking the first competitors who started nearly three hours before Cancellara would head down the start ramp to defend his title. But by the time the first wave of riders had come to the finish, the rain had stopped and the roads began to dry.
"I saw it was raining this morning. I had in mind the stage this year's Tour's TT stage in Albi, when I crashed," Cancellara recalled that wet day in France when he hit the deck on a slick descent to Ambialet. "I knew I did not want to crash." Being the reigning champion and starting last gave the Swiss rider an advantage. "I took a fast start and it was important to have the times of the other riders. My team manager gave me good information."
Cancellara dominated every time check on the way to the finish. He hit time check one at kilometre 8.39 with nine seconds over Dutchman Stef Clement. The trend continued at the midway point (the end of the first of two circuits), where his lead reached 19 seconds and again at the 31.12 kilometre check the advantage was 22 seconds.
He may have been going faster and faster compared to his competition, but he was concentrating on keeping the rubber side of his bike down. "The part that made me nervous was thinking how I absolutely wanted to avoid crashing today," he said. Cancellara's compatriot Simon Zahner started the day when the rain had only just stopped, while the men in the fourth of four start groups benefited from the drier roads. "The riders who started in the beginning were not at an advantage," he acknowledged. "For sure they did not have the best conditions, but many times I have also had this same bad luck."
Cancellara's 2006 season, which included a win in Paris-Roubaix, was capped off with his first World Championships Time Trial win in Salzburg, Austria on September 21. While he did not repeat in Paris-Roubaix this year, he went one better, taking the Tour de France's opening prologue win and going on to wear the coveted leader's jersey for the next eight days before taking another stage win in the départ town of the Paris-Roubaix, Compiègne.
Cancellara had a hard time finding motivation after the Tour de France finished. "After the Tour I did three days of the Tour of Germany, and my head was totally blocked," he noted. "I needed a break, I took nearly ten days. It was something that was necessary because this season was so long. I was racing hard from the Giro d'Italia until the Tour de France and this was a long, long way."
In order to fine-tune his engine in preparation for the World Championships, Cancellara turned to motor-pacing and shorter races. "I didn't do the Tour of Spain this year and the season was different. But in the end I was really lucky, I was in [the Tour of] Poland and we had good weather. I worked pretty well there and then in the last 10 days I did motor-paced training every day. I never went out alone because I thought that maybe it would be more difficult because my head was already tired and the year was so long."
If last year was the best year of his life with Roubaix victory, becoming a husband and dad, then this year would have to be considered satisfying as well. "I am nearly at the end of the season, and I am pretty satisfied with everything I did up until now. I will take a break and then really look forward to next year."