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KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — Fabian Cancellara sat in front of reporters on Friday as a Flanders champion and clear-cut Paris-Roubaix favorite, but he didn’t have the swagger of an odds-on favorite.
Perhaps it’s just not his nature, or perhaps the rider they call “Spartacus” is weary from two crashes this week: one in training, and one in Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs semi-classic. On both occasions he fell on his left side, hard.
“I crashed in Scheldeprijs, I came through, then the other crash yesterday… that was not on the daily schedule, but it just happened. I’m lucky to be sitting here and looking forward to Sunday,” Cancellara said. “I don’t know if I feel 100 percent like last week … still, when I see what happened last year, I’m lucky to be here.”
Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) crashed and suffered a fractured collarbone in a feedzone last year early in the Tour of Flanders when his tire rolled over a stray bottle. This year, he’s returned with both grace and fury, winning E3 Harelbeke and the Ronde van Vlaanderen via dominant solo attacks. The falls have tamped down Cancellara’s odds with the bookmakers for Sunday, but not enough to consider another rider a true rival at the “Hell of the North,” all things equal.
“[After] the Scheldeprijs crash I recovered really well, but the one yesterday, I feel the left bone on the hip, that hurts the most. I think that’s normal because there’s not much skin there on that side. My elbow was a little damaged, too,” he said.
Cancellara added that he hoped that with his two crashes, his bad luck was over with. If he is to become a Roubaix champion yet again, he will need his luck to fall the other direction, of course, but also the strength of a RadioShack team that rode well at Flanders. The best hope for the opposition is to wear down the team early, isolate Cancellara, and attack him with more than one rider who is a threat to stay away if unbridled. A team like Sky, he noted, poses a deep threat, as does BMC Racing with Taylor Phinney and Thor Hushovd.
“A few teams have really strong riders and they have to do something. BMC has a super strong team, the whole team. Team Sky, they have a big, large, strong team. Lotto has good possibilities. Omega has big pressure; they haven’t won a big classic that they may have thought about getting. Those teams will make our lives really hard,” he said. “Anything can happen, look at the break when [Johan] Vansummeren won two years ago.”
“Spartacus” knows the peloton will be waiting on him, but he pledged not to tow his rivals to the Roubaix Velodrome Sunday, and that if everyone simply waits for him, the race will be easier for RadioShack to manage.
“Sitting on my wheel is not a solution. We have riders who can pull for a long time. With or without the big break, I’m confident that I have a good team around me,” Cancellara said. “When you look at the details, everyone has ambitions. Some people haven’t won a race; teams will be under big pressure. We are lucky, we’ve won and everyone is happy. We could stop, but this is the last race of our five-month preparation.”
Before his resurgence on the cobbles this spring, many critics wondered whether Cancellara could overcome defensive riding from his opponents and win another of the cobbled monuments. The bullish Swiss towed Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) to a Milano-Sanremo victory in 2012 and did the same months later in stage 1 of the Tour de France for Peter Sagan (Cannondale). He put those doubts to rest with powerful rides on the Flemish cobbles and will look to do the same Sunday in France.
“It won’t be the Swiss train pulling people to the finish, that definitely will not happen. If they just think they are going to stay on my wheel and then sprint [me] down, that’s not going to happen. No way.”
The train is leaving Sunday morning, north of Paris. If it has any passengers, though, remains to be seen.