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When they call Swiss time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara “Spartacus,” it hits the mark.
The 27-year-old battled uphill to a well-deserved Olympic bronze in the road race on Saturday, and is ready to fight off the specialist climbers to stand two steps higher on the podium of the time trial on Wednesday.
“I’ve been building towards the Games for a long time and I’ve showed with this bronze medal that I’m on great form,” said Cancellara, who has a list of victories that would make any professional proud.
On the day the Games saw its first positive doping case in the sport of cycling, it is worth remembering that the men’s time trial gold was won in controversial fashion in Athens.
In 2004 a post-race doping control on a blood sample from American Tyler Hamilton was declared negative, though it was deemed “suspicious” for blood doping by the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Athens laboratory.
Hamilton was allowed to keep his medal, although a month later he tested positive for homologous blood doping – injected another person’s red blood cells – at the Vuelta a España.
Cancellara, a former Paris-Roubaix winner, the reigning Milan-San Remo champion and a two-time world time trial champion, is one of those cyclists who gets tested a lot.
He was tested eight times at the Tour de France, where he was beaten in the race’s two time trials by German Stefan Schumacher, on relatively flat courses.
In Beijing, he has already been tested twice.
Although a big favorite for Olympic gold, he will be scouring a potentially long list of rivals.
Spaniard Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer of the United States, Australians Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans, as well as Russian Denis Menchov will all have to be beaten if he is to strike gold.
Yet the Swiss insists he has the tools for the job in the 47.6 km race, which is held over two laps of the hilly 23.8km circuit used on the road race.
“I’ve got a slightly more imposing build and a more solid engine than my rivals,” he says with a smile.
Spain-based Menchov comes into the Games with the form which took him to a fourth place finish at the Tour de France, and believes the course suits him.
“I think I can do well in the time trial. It will be hard but the course suits me,” said Menchov, who came into the Olympics as a late replacement for Vladimir Gusev.
A strong performance has made Australian cyclist Cadel Evans more confident about starting Wednesday’s individual time trial.
Evans finished 15th in the road race, 22 seconds behind Spanish winner Samuel Sanchez.
More importantly, he gave his injured knee a thorough workout when he drove an attack on the last lap of the race.
Evans went to the front of the lead group as it went up the 11km climb, forcing the pace and putting several contenders out of medal contention.
He was working for Rogers, who eventually finished sixth.
When he arrived in Beijing a few days ago, Evans was not confident about his chances of riding in the time trial, but confirmed he felt better.
“The other day at the airport I was 40-60 against, now I’m 60-40, we’ll see how I pull up tomorrow,” he said.
Evans injured his knee when he slipped on a wet floor at a post-race party, after finishing second late last month in the Tour de France.
He only confirmed his Olympic entry a week ago.
The knee injury originally forced him to give up his time trial start to Rogers, but Australia then gained a wild card berth in the event and this put Evans back in consideration.
However despite being a former Commonwealth champion and the 31-year-old winning the pre-Olympics Good Luck event in December 2007, the Aussies are looking more towards Rogers to grab a medal.
Rogers is a former three-time world champion who, having missed three months out this season through glandular fever, just missed out on the medals in the men’s road race.
His sixth place finish on what proved to be a tough race of attrition between most of the world’s best cyclists has lifted his mood, and that of top Australia coach Shayne Bannan
“After today’s (Saturday) performance, I would say that Mick would have in his mind that he’s a chance for a medal,” Bannan said.