Tour de France race director Thierry Gouvenou surely had Fabian Cancellara in mind when he plotted tomorrow's foray across the Franco-Swiss border. In what is his final season, the veteran of 10 Tours – which have yielded seven stage wins and 29 days in yellow – has been given the perfect send-off in the form of today's stage finish in his home town of Bern. What's more: there are cobbles.
Cancellara has enjoyed a glittering career, and this final season, full of goodbyes and 'last-evers', has been fraught with emotion. That much was clear as he made his way down the finishing straight of the Tour of Flanders in April, and at Paris-Roubaix, where he tried to drink in the atmosphere and rituals of the Hell of the North one final time.
Though he said this Tour would be business as usual, rather than a farewell procession, the arrival in Bern should see the emotions resurface on the face of the 35-year-old.
"Right now the focus is more on todays stage…but tomorrow will be more emotional," he told Cyclingnews and a small group of reporters, speaking yesterday in Bourg-en-Bresse ahead of stage 15.
"It's a special day for me, a special day for Bern, and for the Swiss country. In some ways I'm looking forward to it, especially arriving in my home town. It's pretty special, a [once in a] lifetime experience."
Cancellara, along with tennis player Roger Federer, is a veritable super star back in Switzerland, and there should be no shortage of interest in coming out to witness the Tour and this farewell-come-homecoming story. The Trek-Segafredo rider is braced for a roaring reception.
"It's not just a criterium race that finishes in the city – it's the Tour – so it's going to be a big day for sure," he said.
"I'm really curious how many changes they had to do for the Tour because if you ride the Tour de Suisse the traffic is closed for 10 minutes, and people are saying there are already banners and that the roads will be closed for four hours," said Cancellara.
"It's just something bigger than Switzerland is used to, but Switzerland has always had great sports events and great athletes. If it comes to the emotion, then are somehow less emotional but on the other hands they are passionate anyway about sport, and that's the beauty of it. As soon as we head into the last climb towards the city it's going to be pretty packed." Cancellara has not just been given the luxury of a stage finish four kilometres from his front door, but a stage he has a real chance of winning.
The parcours for the 209km outing is fairly uncomplicated for the most part, but there's a fourth-category climb with 25km remaining and, crucially, a cobbled climb just ahead of the final kilometre. 600 metres in length with an average gradient of 6.5 per cent, it's not exactly the Kappelmuur, but it may well represent an opportunity to derail the sprinters' teams.
Cancellara has to go for it, surely?
"I'm riding on home roads, and I know all the last kilometres blind," he said, though he did dampen expectations slightly by pointing out that it isn't to be treated as a Classic.
"If it's a one-day race it's completely different to the day after a hard day like today [stage 15]. The whole thing will be a totally different scenario. It's going to be a tough one – it's tricky, it's cobbles, and it's not a secret I'm living in this town. We'll see…"
The fairytale script has been written; now it's just a case of acting it out.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.