His form might not be perfect, the parcours and weather might be against him but it would take a brave man to rule Fabian Cancellara out of contention ahead of this year’s UCI World Championships road race.
The Swiss powerhouse has endured a mixed season and finished third in Wednesday’s time trial. It was his first World Championship time trial loss since 2005 (he didn't ride in 2008) and in a pre-race press conference on the eve of the road race he played down his chances but stressed that his form is still improving.
“I came out of the Vuelta with high confidence. I’ve seen that my condition is getting better. That gives me confidence. In my situation, even when I look at the time trial, I know I still have good form because of the training I’ve done at home. Will that be enough for Sunday? I don’t know. Sport is like that though, you can be super good and still lose,” he said.
Friday’s two road races – the junior women’s and men’s U23 – both ended in bunch sprints, something Cancellara and his team will hope to avoid on Sunday. The Swiss rider’s best chance may come in the form of a solo move but in San Remo this year, and even in the form of a sprint from a small group.
During his press conference he was asked if he would wait until the final few kilometres and attack, a tactic that won him Milan San-Remo in 2008.
“Well San Remo was a bit harder and this is 260 kilometers, not 300. We’re missing around 20K to make it that hard. With the weather we could make up for that if it’s raining and it’s cold. That might be enough to make a selection but if the weather is nice and there’s no wind that can make the difference.”
Cancellara’s form has been below his best for most of this season though. In fact it’s a stark contrast to the prowess he showed in the spring classics. In E3 he rode an entire group of favourites off his wheel on a flat section of road and led to Heinrich Haussler admitting to the media that, “I was sprinting at 100 per cent and I still couldn’t hold his wheel on a flat straight of road.”
Although missing out at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Cancellara was undoubtedly the strongest rider in both races, losing due to poor tactics, a weak team and negative tactics from other teams.
“I’m at a different level,” he admitted. “That was the spring and this is the end of the season. This is different to the level at the Tour too. We’ll see how strong I am at on Sunday. We’re not the favourites but we’ll play that role.”
Riding with RadioShack
As well as his chances at the World Championships, Cancellara’s future has been in the headlines. The merger between RadioShack and Leopard Trek has seen a number of riders cut from the 2012 line-up, forcing them to look for new teams. Cancellara hasn’t been affected - contractually at least – and confirmed that he would be with the new RadioShack team for 2012 and so dismissing rumours that he could return to Bjarne Riis’s Saxo Bank.
“I have a contract until 2013 with RadioShack. The focus now is on the Worlds though and we’ll work on that and put other things on hold in our thoughts. There are bigger problems in the world and you have to live with things. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to live with that happened in the time trial and I would have stayed at home and relaxed. We love this sport and we’ll carry on with what we’re doing,” he said.