Fabian Cancellara arrived in Bruges today, ahead of the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. He trained then met with the press this afternoon, discussing the possibility of him winning the race for a second time after 2010, and marking his comeback after last year's collarbone fracture.
Following a disappointing 2012, the Swiss of team RadioShack-Leopard is once again favourite for de Ronde. Bookmakers give him and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) the best odds of winning, 2:1 each.
Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) carries 13:2 odds and three-time winner, Tom Boonen (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) is at 12:1 following a compromised build-up.
Cancellara thrashed the competition with an attack on the Kwaremont to win E3 Harelbeke one week ago. Sagan was right on his wheel at the time, but could not hold the pace. He finished in a small chase group with Geraint Thomas (Sky) one minute behind.
Sagan won two days later, however, at Ghent-Wevelgem and earned his joint favourite status.
Cancellara crashed after the Kwaremont last year in Flanders and fractured his collarbone. He returned to win the Tour de France prologue and spent some days in the yellow jersey, but his season ended on a sour note with a crash in the Olympic road race.
Despite a victory already to his name, he has the itch to get back and win a monument.
"It starts with Milan-San Remo and goes to Paris-Roubaix. I have three possibilities, not one of them is easy to win. You need a lot of lot of luck," Cancellara told a small group of journalists earlier this year. "I'd like to win Flanders with its new parcours."
Cancellara returned to Bern after his crash last year and never watched Boonen win Flanders on the new parcours until this winter. The team gave him a DVD, without any commentary, just silence.
He joked he could have used some sound, but the stillness allowed him to better concentrate on the three closing circuits that take in the Kwaremont and Paterberg each time.
"The preparation started earlier with that video. It was a good way to see what happened on the course," Cancellara continued. "On the last time up the Paterberg, you saw the differences being made. Still, the crash on the second last lap affected the race."
On the second ascent of the Paterberg, Johan Van Summeren and many others were left behind. Alessandro Ballan attacked on the final Kwaremont climb and formed the front trio with Filippo Pozzato and eventual winner, Boonen.
Cancellara's team-mates also arrived at the Hotel Weinebrugge in Bruges. Stijn Devolder, Tony Gallopin, Danilo Hondo, Markel Irizar, Yaroslav Popovych, Gregory Rast and Hayden Roulston will be ride at his side.
Boonen is suffering from several setbacks this year, but his team is strong enough to enjoy several victory options. It can play Chavanel and Niki Terpstra, and hold back Boonen, or visa versa.
"Tom's still there," General Manager Patrick Lefevere said on Tuesday. "If you see when he was pulling [in Three Days of De Panne] ... that means that he had good legs, but on Sunday we may play different cards with Niki Terpstra, Chavanel and Boonen."
RadioShack, and in fact Sagan's team, appears much more one-dimensional. Cancellara disagrees.
"When you see last year's Flanders, we had four riders in the top 15," Cancellara explained.
"They weren't in the front, but ... When I see Hayden, Popo... And Greg, Tony... I forgot Stijn. Without a doubt, we will have a strong team."
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