After capturing his third win in the Tour of Flanders and equalling the race record last Sunday, it’s obvious that Fabian Cancellara is the top favourite to come level with the four wins from Tom Boonen and Roger De Vlaeminck in Paris-Roubaix next Sunday. The Swiss rider played down the expectations during a press conference on Friday afternoon, moving the pressure towards riders who failed to grab a win so far in this year’s Spring Classics season.
Cancellara said he just wanted a war on cobbles and have a sunny bike ride in France. Shortly after learning about the absence from teammate Stijn Devolder in the team selection, a seemingly relaxed Cancellara claimed he didn’t worry whether or not he received a five star rating from the bookmakers.
“I’m not favourite number one. Like in Flanders there’s lot of other favourites and riders riding in good condition. Things will be changed this year. The race is open for everyone. If I get five stars or not, it’s not my decision. There’s a lot more riders with five stars to me, but they’re under more pressure because they haven’t won. There’s Kristoff, Sagan and Terpstra, they’ve won the recent races we went through. The rest haven’t won. The campaign of the Classics finishes on the velodrome and that’s why there’s still a lot of people are hungry. I’m hungry as well and that’s why, let’s go and have a great meet,” Cancellara said.
Last year Tom Boonen had the chance to get a record-equalling fourth win in Roubaix, but this year both Cancellara and Boonen have a chance to reach that goal. Cancellara can also become the first rider who has managed three double wins in Flanders and Roubaix. Boonen pulled it off in 2005 and 2012, Cancellara did it in 2010 and last year.
Cancellara didn’t deny that making history was on his mind. “Yeah, of course. It’s there. It’s no secret. We had that last year too with the possibilities for Tom. It’s not only about winning tomorrow, but also about history. It makes me really hungry,” Cancellara said. “When the fourth stone will be won I’ll have to change something at home as we only have three windows in the sauna, but I don’t care. To be so close to something like this, I know what I have to do.”
The demanding Flanders ride from last Sunday took its toll and Cancellara claimed he needed more recovery than other years. “I feel much better than in the past days. That was important because Sunday was tougher than in other years in my opinion. I won and had the race in Scheldeprijs, which was important to do, stretching and doing 200km. Then there was the recon on the parcours yesterday and now there’s just two days of relaxing and getting ready for Sunday.”
After winning the Tour of Flanders, the focus for Cancellara switched to the cobbles between Compiègne and Roubaix. The weather report changed quite a bit since then and Cancellara happily noted that once again it will be a sunny day in the usually grim north of France.
“I’m looking forward to a sunny race in France,” Cancellara said while pointing out that there will only be three former Paris-Roubaix winners at the start line in Compiègne. “Just Tom, me and Vansummeren have won. The rest of the peloton hasn’t won. That puts the rest of the teams under more pressure.
"With my win in Flanders, the other [teams] have to move. That’s why I probably enjoy it even more,” Cancellara said, expecting a super strong Omega Pharma – Quick-Step team and the Belkin team to take the initiative. “Then we also have Greg [Van Avermaet (BMC)]. He showed he’s in super condition, but it’s not because we lost Stijn that our team is going to sit back.”
Cancellara emphasized that he wasn’t in love with the cobbles as one would expect.
“When it would be love I would do more. It’s not hate but more a war with the cobbles. I want to win the war with the cobbles. It hurts a lot, especially when you’re going slow. That’s why you have to go fast and get as fast as you can off the cobbles. You have to push a lot and go through a lot of pain. You must be ready for suffering.”
Ever since making his debut in Paris-Roubaix with the illustrious silver Fassa Bortolo team from Giancarlo Ferretti the race has done something to the now 33 year-old rider. During his first year he struggled, and in his second participation he rode a strong race but lost the four-man sprint and landed off the podium.
“There’s no correct word for this race. The first time I did Roubaix I hated this race. The first time I came through Arenberg and got to the feed zone you’re just happy to find a car that brings you to the finish. It was a nice story. I came to the velodrome and lost again, but I did a strong move. This week I watched it again and wondered why I did that strong move. Ballerini told me it was probably good I lost it there. If you win it early there would be a lot of pressure at young age in the following year. You need leergeld,” Cancellara surprisingly knew nothing but the Flemish word to describe he had to pay his dues.
“These two years showed that I don’t love the race but there’s something with the race. I’m not going to race at home on cobbles. It’s just really this day.”
Cancellara said his inspiration comes from Franco Ballerini and Andrea Tafi, the Italian masters of the cobbles but also Belgian star Johan Museeuw.
“With Ballerini, Museeuw and Tafi, they inspired me most when I watched these races. When I did my first Roubaix I remember I had stopped already two and a half minutes. Taffi was there with me and he went on to finish sixth or so [he finished fifth -ed] so that’s where I learned that you can never give up. He gave me the inspiration to learn things. On a ranking from 1 to 10 Ballerini was the number ten, the man with most class, elegance to ride over the cobbles. To get this feedback from him after I lost Roubaix was a huge boost.”
When asked about his rival Tom Boonen with whom he shares seven Paris-Roubaix victories, the Swiss rider expressed they’re certainly not rivals off the bike. “Normally more riders share more victories. We shared so many victories together ever since 1998. It’s great. He’s not my idol. We don’t call each other every day or have dinner together. He lives here and me in Switzerland. My friends live at home. We know each other since so long. Like with other riders you know what you want. We both want to race. We respect each other, but this weekend it will be a big fight. He showed he’s ready, probably more than people think. Often in Flanders I wasn’t super and the weekend later I was ready. The same counts for him.”
Cancellara didn’t want to think too much about the rest of the season as his focus was fully on Paris-Roubaix. The only thing he recalled was heading back home on Monday to enjoy the last days of the school holidays with his family. “We’ll sit down with the team after the race to discuss the races and my training schedule.”
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