When Fabian Cancellara attacks and opens a gap, he has the physical ability to leave the best of the peloton behind, but after winning the second Paris-Roubaix title of his career on Sunday the 29-year-old now also knows he can defeat them on a psychological level too.
That was perhaps the key to Cancellara's victory at the 2010 Paris-Roubaix. He proved he was strongest on the bike, but had already defeated his rivals before they even had chance to organise a chase. The Saxo Bank rider launched his race-winning attack near the Mons-en-Pévèle sector of cobbles, with more that 50 kilometres to race. He said afterwards that even when he only had a small gap, he was convinced he was going to win and that his rivals, including Tom Boonen (Quick Step), knew it.
"I knew that with my form and the way the last few weeks were going, I knew they'd be scared of me, even when I only had a ten metre gap," Cancellara said in the post-race press conference, clearly still struggling to comprehend what he had achieved.
"When I accelerated I knew they'd have a hard time trying to get on my wheel and that was extra motivation too. I knew it would hurt them again, this time physiologically."
"After the Mons-en-Pévèle section of pave I asked the team car how many riders there were behind, because I knew they might ride against me, but they didn’t. As the guys in the car said, 'they're tired and now is the time to go'. So who would have closed the gap? Boonen, Flecha and Hushovd and the others were there but I think they knew straight away that they were riding for second place. I was able to stabilise the gap and then keep going all the way to the end."
Making cycling history
Cancellara joined just a handful of riders who have won both the Tour of Flanders and the Paris-Roubaix in the same year. He knew he had made history.
"I think the history of cycling is very important and I think I've done something special. When there's a chance to do a great thing, you have to do it," he said.
"The Tour of Flanders was the goal of my year. I told my soigneur I had less force in my legs here, but it was also a different situation. I gave 200 per cent for the Tour of Flanders but with all the emotions and everything that happened it wasn't easy to come to Paris-Roubaix and win. However, I stayed focused and told myself to do the right thing and carry on. Today is a great day, also because of that."
Cancellara will go down in history as the winner of this year's Paris-Roubaix. Tom
Boonen will perhaps be remembered as the one who lost it by making the fatal mistake of being too far from the front of the race when Cancellara attacked.
"There was always this battle Cancellara against Boonen, and Boonen against
Cancellara," he said. "I knew that we'd look at each other during the race and the way the race was going on, I started to get a little nervous. I don’t have any teammates left and a lot of other riders l were still there and I knew there could be attacks and that I might miss the right break."
"I thought he (Boonen) wanted to make first selection because he said he wanted to come to velodrome and make the sprint, but I knew he didn't want to do that against me with my form and recent victories. When I attacked I was at the front and there was a crosswind. I accelerated and then after Mons-en-Pevele I had a tailwind and the motivation to go full gas. I wanted to make a small group to see what would happen but I was alone and so I kept going."
Celebrations first, then maybe the Amstel Gold Race
Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis hoped that Cancellara would keep racing and perhaps go for a Classics triple, by adding the Amstel Gold Race to his run of victories. However, Cancellara is physically and mentally exhausted after an emotional and demanding Spring. Before committing himself to riding in Holland next Sunday, he rightly wants to celebrate and spend time with his wife and daughter, who were in the velodrome to see him win.
"I'm going to party with my family, friends and team tonight and that's the most important thing. He [Riis] is looking forwards but I need to time to enjoy and celebrate because days like these don't happen often in cycling. For now my suitcase is closed," Cancellara said.