Trek Factory Racing's Fabian Cancellara has described his injury-hit season as a physical and emotional ‘roller coaster’ but is back in action at the Vuelta a España and insists he is still hungry for success, with the world road race championships a possible objective that would give the Swiss rider true atonement after such a tough year.
Cancellara fractured two vertebra after crashing while wearing the yellow jersey at the Tour de France on the stage to Huy. He was caught up in the high-speed crash that left William Bonnet (FDJ) in a neck brace and numerous others battered and bruised. He suffered similar fractures on different sides of the same vertebra at the E3 Harelbeke race in March, meaning he's missed all of the Spring Classics. Illness before the Tour de Suisse and even a bout of flu last week further hit his form and moral but he told Cyclingnews during an exclusive interview that he is still motivated as he looks to start his season all over again and build a base for 2016 – his final season in the professional peloton.
"This season has been a real roller coaster for me but I’m still motivated. If I look back I’ve had some good moments, some really successful moments, like winning Oman and wearing yellow at the Tour but then some real low moments with crashes and illness too," he said from Marbella as the hours count down to the start of the Vuelta a España.
"The ups and down have made I hard to bounce back. But I’ve been lucky that I still won some big races when I did come back and so proved that I could still be successful and deserve my place in the peloton. But it hasn’t been easy that’s for sure."
Cancellara has not raced since crashing at speed during the third stage of the Tour de France. A Grand Tour is not an ideal place to return to racing but he has the experience of riding 18 Grand Tours to know how to pace his effort and rebuild his form day after day.
"Your head is your head but your legs are your legs…" Cancellara says in Italian, mixing cycling philosophy with crude logic.
"I’m still very motivated and I’ve realised that coming back yet again this summer but I’ve got to let my form come back up. I can’t set myself any major objectives yet, I’ve got to see what happens," he explains.
"We preferred to ride the Vuelta and perhaps suffer in certain moments rather than opt for a mixed race programme with lots travelling and interruption. I’m not going to worry about if I’m working well, I’m going to ride my bike and get on with the racing. We’ve seen that the route of the Vuelta can help my gradual comeback to good form.
"We opted not to ride the Eneco Tour so that I could do some specific work to get ready for the Vuelta but then last week I got ill again and missed several days of quality training. Now I’m going to start the Vuelta with little form in my legs and lots of questions about what will happen. Even my hopes and expectations are on a roller coaster…"
No thought just yet about the World Championships in Richmond
Cancellara has won almost every race that is physically possible for him to win. The one title missing from his palmares is the world title and year in the rainbow jersey.
In the past the world title has been almost an obsession. But it is just a possibility, a hope of redemption on the horizon, at the end of the Vuelta. His chances depend on what happens during the next three weeks. If he avoids further dips and rolls, he could have the form to target the rainbow jersey in Richmond.
"We know that the world road race championships are at the end of the Vuelta, at the end of this three-week road ahead of me but I don’t want to think about them or think about what I can do," he said.
"I’m going to focus on the Vuelta and not let any pressure or expectations build up. The Worlds seem far away but they’ll come quickly and I just want to see what happens.
"If I think just about the Worlds I’d make a mistake. I’m going to race day by day, help the team and share my experience with them for the good of the team. There are a lot of great riders here, with very strong teams. We’re ready to join in the attacks and go for the sprints with Van Poppel and we’ve got Fränk Schleck and Jasper Stuyven, who is on form too. We’re motivated.
"For sure the work I’ll do now will also help me for next year and so lay down a base for 2016, which is also an Olympic year and as everybody knows, my final year. I want to be ready to enjoy.
"Most of all, after such a poor year, I know I’ve got to stay optimistic. It’d be easy to moan because there’s never been any kind of continuation and that has hurt as much as my injuries. But I’ve learnt that sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don’t. Were not machines, were human beings. There are things in life we can’t always control."
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