Explaining high-profile defeats has become an all-too familiar scene for Fabian Cancellara this season, and after being beaten into third place in the UCI World Championships time trial on Wednesday, his year continues to fall short of his all-conquering campaign of 2010.
The inquisition began at the post-race press conference, and after Cancellara graciously paid tribute to the victor Tony Martin (Germany), he looked to put a brave face on his first defeat in the Worlds time trial since 2005.
"I started with good feelings but then I couldn't find a rhythm and I also felt that this was maybe not the day where I can give everything," Cancellara said.
He has been rattling off world title-winning rides since he was a junior in 1998, but ironically that treasury of experience may well have counted against him once it became apparent that the machine was not working with its habitual Swiss precision.
"When you've won so many races and you've always had these [good] feelings, maybe mentally there I cracked a bit when I couldn't give more than that," Cancellara admitted. "That's maybe the result, when you're not 100 percent on a day like that when you should be 100 percent."
Prior to the race, however, Cancellara was pleased with his preparation at his home in Switzerland, and confident that he was on course to take a fifth world title in the discipline.
"When I look back at the last few days at home or even on the Vuelta I had really good feelings," he said. "I had much better feelings at home in training and good sensations and also good numbers. But today was not numbers, today was not training."
When Cancellara cruised to a jaw-dropping victory at the E3 Prijs-Harelbeke in March, it appeared as though 2011 would see another succession of victories of alarming facility. Instead, though the Swiss has remained a forceful a presence, his list of victories has been rather thinner this time around.
"I know for myself that when I look at the spring I had an amazing spring in a way," he said. "I mean there are big results, but you have to look at big results as winning. At the end of the year you count how many first places you have on your palmares, and not how many seconds or how many thirds or how many beautiful things you've done for your team or whatever you have done."
Cancellara compared his situation to that of another under-pressure Swiss sporting idol. "Roger Federer is also not giving up even though there is Nadal and Djokovic and Tsonga," he said. "It isn't only Tony and me in the time trial, there are other riders as well and that's the challenge, that's the battle.
"As I already said, I was not on my perfect day but we are not machines. When you're not 100 percent on a day like that you also don't deserve the win. That's a clear fact. Cycling would be too easy."
The RadioShack merger
Off the bike, Cancellara and his Leopard Trek teammates have faced an uncertain period in recent weeks following the announcement that the Luxembourg-based team will merge with RadioShack for the 2012 season.
"That's life and in a way that's business, but in the end you have to ask those people and not ask me. I'm riding my bike and want to give 100 percent," he said. "In life you see a lot of things. You see UBS, look what they did. They lost three billion only because they pushed the wrong button. I think that's worse than what's going on in our case."
Cancellara dismissed the notion that the confusion had impacted on his Worlds preparation, and he confirmed that he expects to ride for the new team next year. "I have a contract and I am with Leopard and Leopard is continuing," he said.
"Sure, I could have said with all that was going on ‘I'm staying home from the Worlds' but that was not the case. I will focus 100 percent on Sunday and for the rest we'll see later, because that's one of the main goals of the season."
Cancellara is now all too well aware that Sunday's road race is his last chance to inscribe a big win in his palmares for 2011.
"I trained a bit more than the last year's and I've trained really well for both races," he said quietly. So tightly marked all spring and so heavily favoured in the time trial, he will be looking to fly under the radar at the weekend.
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