Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) said goodbye to Belgium on Sunday, winning a criterium in Bavikhove near Kortrijk, close to where he was often based during his many spring Classics campaigns that saw him win the Tour of Flanders in 2010, 2013 and 2014. The evening criterium was Cancellara's final road race in Belgium as he winds down his career and hangs up his wheels at the end of the season.
Cancellara beat Classics rivals John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) and celebrated with a special bottle of Kwaremont beer, one of the event sponsors.
"I'm really happy to be here. I agreed to come here before winning the gold medal in Rio. My word is my word and so I'm happy to race despite having a busy schedule. Criteriums are not the world championships and so you can enjoy yourself on the bike. I also know it's a last chance to race in Belgium," Cancellara told Sporza before his race.
"It was always special every time I came to Belgium. I always feel a bit of a Belgian. That's really special. The people appreciated me not only as a rider, but also as a person. That is the best compliment that you can get as an athlete. I won some big races but at the end of the day I'm just an ordinary man. I can only say thank you to all the fans here Belgium and particularly in Flanders. This is where cycling is alive."
Cancellara is due to return to Belgium for a farewell event in Ghent on the Kuipke velodrome on November 12.
No second thoughts
Despite showing he is still competitive in the Classics and time trials by winning the gold medal at the Rio Olympics, Cancellara made it clear he ready to end his career. He has had enough of the demands of professional racing.
"I'm not going to say I'll miss it but for sure my heart will beat differently," he said when asked if he will miss riding the spring Classics in 2017.
"When you retire and then watch the races, for sure the adrenaline and nerves will be there even if I'm only watching and not racing. Now I'll watch as a fan and a recent winner. It'll be a totally new feeling. I don't know if I'll watch it from home or like a supporter at the side of the road.
"The most important thing is build a new base. I won't be travelling for 250 days a year from race to race and training camp. There will be a new daily schedule after 16 years. I'm going to take my time changing that. I'll stay involved with Trek and have other sponsors and things I want to do. I've also got plans to go to school to study and maybe even improve my English. I want ride my bike but without a number on my back. I want to enjoy life. I want to go skiing, spending time with my friends. I will certainly not sit at home, that's for sure. I'm fortunate, racing has given me so much, I would like to give something back, in so many different ways."
Cancellara has still to reveal the final races of his career but has hinted he will not take part in the road race and time trial World Championships in Qatar in October.