Cancellara’s final Tour de France? ‘Nothing is decided yet’

The Swiss superstar has a chance of winning Saturday's stage 1 and wearing the yellow jersey

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UTRECHT, Netherlands (VN) — Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) is refusing to be nostalgic about what might be his final ride in the Tour de France.

The Swiss superstar, who’s won five opening prologues during his Tour career, admitted Thursday he doesn’t know if he will race one more Tour in what will be his final season in 2016.

“Nothing is decided yet,” Cancellara said about his 2016 racing schedule. “In cycling, you never know how your program can be changed. It might look like it will be my last Tour. I am focused on what is now.”

Trek officials confirmed that Cancellara has a contract to race through 2016, something the Swiss superstar said will be his last. With the Olympic Games on the radar and one more gallop across the spring classics also in the cards, there is a possibility that this Tour might be Cancellara’s last.

“This is my 10th Tour. I thought that this could be my last Tour, and my last chance to ride into Paris. This is on my mind,” Cancellara said. “I want to enjoy the race, and all the experience I have in the race. It is a special and tough race. I will do what I have to do.”

“Spartacus” has had a tremendous Tour career, winning eight stages, including five prologues or opening-day time trials. With 28 days in the yellow jersey, the most among active riders, he ranks 11th on the all-time list for days in the maillot jaune. Beginning with his prologue win in 2004 in Liège, Belgium, Cancellara also won opening prologues in 2007 (London), 2009 (Monte Carlo), 2010 (Rotterdam), and 2012 (Liège).

A searing back injury that knocked him out of this year’s spring classics and the inevitable advance of age sees a different Cancellara lining up for Saturday’s 13.8km time trial to open the 102nd Tour.

Under normal conditions, Cancellara would be a five-star favorite for another yellow jersey. But after struggling through the Tour de Suisse, even Cancellara admits he might not be the top hope to claim a sixth Tour opening-day win. Cancellara pointed to the obvious favorites — Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step), Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing), and Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) — but said he will go down swinging.

“It’s a different type of time trial. In my past, I’ve been successful on non-French roads,” he said, referring to his prologue wins, all out of France. “I am confident, and I am looking forward to it. I had a tough time before and during the Tour de France, but this is what I’ve been training for. I am used to the pressure. It’s you against your bike. You have to give your maximum effort.”

Talk of Cancellara’s Tour farewell underscores a major shift inside the hierarchy of the Trek Factory Racing team. The previous incarnations of the team, under the banner of Leopard-Trek, were built on the pillars of Cancellara and the Schleck brothers. Things are clearly changing. Andy Schleck retired with a knee injury at the end of 2014, and Frank Schleck is missing this year’s Tour also due to injury. For the first time in a decade, a rider with the last name of Schleck will not be in the Tour.

Trek is already building a new base for the future, signing Dutch hope Bauke Mollema over the winter to lead the team’s GC ambitions. The 28-year-old Dutchman, who slotted over from the Rabobank/Belkin team, is aiming for a top-5 overall.

“I rode many Tours with [the Schlecks], and we shared a lot of good and different things. Now it’s a new chapter,” Cancellara said. “We don’t have Frank here. Now we have Bauke, with have 100 percent to play with him. I have my experience to help. Bauke is Bauke. He’s not Andy or Frank. We are all professionals, we know what to do.”

The first week of this Tour is brutal, stacked with classics-style courses that include cobbles, wind, and sharp, uphill finales that are perfect for Cancellara’s style of racing.

“The first week gives a lot of possibilities for the yellow jersey,” Cancellara said. “It’s quite a tough first week. I don’t know if I’ve seen such an intense first week. We have team goals, my goals. With Bauke, we have heaps of possibilities.”

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