Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) was mobbed by the Italian crowd after reaching the finish of Strade Bianche in Siena but stayed hunched over his handlebars as he tried to recover from his huge effort.
Cancellara was hoping for a third victory at Strade Bianche but three punctures and the strong winds left him tired and unable to stay with the leaders when Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) forced an important selection.
He fought to limit his losses, chasing hard all the way to Siena with Daniel Oss (BMC) but slipped back and was eventually caught by a chasing group. He cracked on the steep climb to Siena and finished 19th, 1:26 behind winner Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep).
“That was hard,” he said after raising his head and taking a long swig from a bottle.
“It was expected but the wind made it even harder and very, very, dangerous. I think I’m very lucky to have stayed up. I saw a lot of crashes. I punctured in three bad moments and that cost me but that’s racing. I ran out of legs in the last 500 metres.”
Cancellara rode the Challenge Mallorca races before travelling to the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman. He has already racked up 16 days of racing but admitted his form has taken a step backwards after becoming sick when he returned home to Switzerland.
“I’m happy with my ride. I didn’t know how far I’d go and how well I’d do,” he said, with a slightly blocked nose.
“I’ve ridden Qatar and Oman but after I was ill and I came here to see how I felt. I’m happy it’s over…”
Cancellara will target all the cobbled Classics this spring and so faces another five weeks of intense racing before he can enjoy a break. He prefers to take on one race at a time and quickly dismissed a question about Milan-San Remo from Italian television.
“Milan-San Remo?” he said with a laugh. “Do you know when that is? First we’ve got to suffer and race a lot at Tirreno-Adriatico.”