Experience gives Cancellara confidence entering Hell

By Brecht Decaluwé in Compiegne, France

Just one day before the 2008 Paris-Roubaix, Team CSC talked with the press at their hotel in Compiegne. Director sportif Scott Sunderland outlined his squad's plans to win Paris-Roubaix for the third year in a row, building upon the success of Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O'Grady. "Fabian will be the team leader, and next to him we have some more cards to play," said Sunderland.

Cyclingnews' asked Cancellara, the 2006 Paris-Roubaix winner, about his form, his rivals and his build-up for one of the most important races of the season.

On Friday at a Quick Step press conference, Tom Boonen had said that he felt Cancellara wasn't as strong during the Ronde van Vlaanderen as he had been three to four weeks earlier, when he racked up victories in Eroica, Milano-Sanremo and Tirrenno-Adriatico. Cancellera responded, "I wasn't 100% in Flanders. I didn't do things in the right way during the week ahead of Flanders, but also during the race." Things didn't go according to plan for Cancellara. "Normally I have plenty of force, but during the Ronde van Vlaanderen I felt like pudding. Compared to last week, I feel 100% more comfortable. I did everything to reach my goal, but when you're not in your day, you can't win Flanders. Devolder showed that you need to be 100%. The way he won showed that he was the strongest and the best rider in the race."

Things are back on track for Cancellara who said, "This week was great and I felt good in Gent-Wevelgem. Already during the reconnaissance of Paris-Roubaix I found the feeling that I was chasing. Let's go to the race now and give all we can, and then everybody can get ready for the after party in our hotel," Cancellara said.

In addition to winning the Paris-Roubaix, Cancellara is chasing another goal. "My dream is to win Milano-Sanremo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix in one year. That's no longer possible, but I'm not saying no to the double Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix," It would be a rather unusual double in that if the Swiss won in Roubaix, he would be the first rider since Museeuw to win Paris-Roubaix twice. Cancellara isn't stopping at trying to win just twice, though. "After my demonstration during my first win here, it was clear that I could go on and win the event a few more times, but it's impossible to say how many."

The 27 year-old Swiss racer, with Italian roots, offered more strong words. With a message for Boonen, Cancellara said, "Last week Tom was already saying that he is so strong, but if you're that strong then I think you need to win races. Since California he didn't win a race, and that is quite long for him, because he is a rider that has the possibility to win more races, and he didn't do it." Cancellara added, "For a lot of riders it's the last chance to win, so there's a lot of pressure on their shoulders.

Effectively, Cancellara was shifting the pressure from his shoulders to his Belgian rival and he explained why. "There's a big difference between being a favourite on paper and living up to those expectations in the race. In Paris-Roubaix luckily I'm not the only favourite. There are a lot of riders who can win, but to me, Hincapie is the biggest favourite. He went really well in Flanders, although he didn't grab a great result in the end I saw he rode well. Then there's Flecha who's crazy about the race, but he has never won. Tom is strong, but I repeat that to win a big race you need to win something else ahead of it. To me Hoste rode a strong race last week, but he was unlucky."

Unlike other riders, Cancellara doesn't feel some sort of relationship with the cobbles. He explained how he approached the difficult surface in the North of France. "We've got cobbles in Freiberg and Bern as well, but you can't compare it to those in France. I don't feel love for the cobbles. I think the most important is to find the right feeling for it." What that feeling might be was further explained by the man who is sometimes called "Spartacus". "I'm more nervous than last week, but I'm still very calm. I need to come to the start in a relaxed way and then during the race I need to get into the jet-stream. Once I get in there, I'm unstoppable." It sounds like Spartacus could strike again. The words sounded familiar after last week when Cancellara said he was 100% when going into the Ronde van Vlaanderen. "Last week I said I was 100%, but I was wrong because I was bad. Maybe I went over my limit to say how good I was," Cancellara said.

Cancellara made plenty of strong statements during his chat with the press. When asked why, he said he likes the gossip in the press. "I often search the internet and it's great to see how the others are talking. The wins I have in my bag make me feel comfortable. I have a few things in my pocket that the others don't have. Last year the experience was lacking. I didn't know how the deal with media and everything around the cycling races. Now we're better organized in the team, and wearing the yellow jersey during the Tour de France makes you learn a lot as well. Now I'm much more experienced."

While walking away from the team's hotel, Cyclingnews spotted something special about the bike of Fabian Cancellara. There was a sticker with "Tony M.".Director Sportif Sunderland explained the "wrong" name, just before he drove off toward the team presentation. "It comes from the movie Scarface." Instead of the nickname Spartacus, it may be time to get used to the "Tony Montana", who known for saying, "The world is yours." This is in contrast to what Boonen's pre-race statement from Friday, when the Belgian said, "The most beautiful thing about cycling is that even though you're the strongest rider, you can't just ask the others if they can please let you win; everybody's there to get the best result possible."

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