After six months away from racing, Fabian Cancellara has made his return to competitive action this week at the Tour of Qatar, the early test site of choice for the cobbled classics. His focus on late March and early April is already such that, on Monday night, he watched a DVD of last year's Tour of Flanders in his hotel room, but Cancellara was also asked to revisit the recent past when he spoke with a small group of journalists in Doha.
The landscape of Cancellara's RadioShack-Leopard squad has shifted significantly since he last turned a pedal in anger at the London 2012 Olympics, as Johan Bruyneel was finally removed his position as manager following the release of USADA's Reasoned Decision on the Lance Armstrong case in October.
On the eve of the RadioShack communiqué announcing Bruyneel's departure, Cancellara publicly expressed his reservations about the Belgian's role at the squad, prompting speculation that he had issued an ultimatum on the matter to team backer Flavio Becca. Over three months on, however, Cancellara was keen to downplay the significance of that timely intervention.
"It's not my team, it was in the hands of Flavio Becca and the people who work in the office," he said. "At the end of the day, I'm just a bike rider. I'm important, that's clear, but I'm one of the employees of the team. I can bring all my experience, but I think they found out by themselves that they had to change something.
"For sure, it was not a good situation for me and the team, but it came out by itself that it was almost impossible that it could continue with Johan as the manager of the team. I think it was the best solution, otherwise it would have affected the team even more."
Cancellara was typically effusive in his answers, delivering a stream of consciousness worthy of Molly Bloom when asked for an opinion on the Lance Armstrong affair and its effect on cycling. However, the bottom line for Cancellara, it seems, is that he has little desire for the past to be dredged up and analysed in detail.
"When I see all the things going on lately, I won't say it's a waste of time, but you can go into so much detail and you're not going to find a solution," he said. "It's another chapter, from the past. I want turn the book, and leave Lance and Fuentes.
"When people are always opening the screws and going into the hole to see what everything was in 1998 or 1994 or 2001, then we're not going to go forward."
If RadioShack's 2012 campaign was troubled off the bike, on the road, Cancellara's own fortunes were scarcely much better. Although he claimed victory at Strade Bianche and the Tour de France prologue, his season was defined by two crashes. He "joined cycling's broken collarbone club" when he crashed at the Tour of Flanders, and then saw his hopes of Olympic gold evaporate in London when he crashed while driving the leading group in the finale.
"I lost maybe the two biggest opportunities in my whole life to make history and win two big races," he said. "But you have to put it all on the table and see the positives and negatives. I tried to turn around the negative and take the positive."
As the 2013 classics approach, however, the wheel has turned, and it is Cancellara's great rival Tom Boonen who is now suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The Belgian was hampered by an intestinal infection in December, while he underwent surgery for an infected elbow last month. That setback ruled him out of both the Tour de San Luis and the Tour of Qatar, although Boonen is expected to make his belated seasonal debut at next week's Tour of Oman.
"I'm used to having Tom in Qatar but it's still a long way to go until April," Cancellara said. "He's had a hard winter with the virus and his injury, but even though he's my competition, I certainly don't want to see him sick or injured. I have too much respect for him."
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