Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) went to the outer limits of his physical capacities to conquer a third Paris-Roubaix in France today. He weakened his rivals, bridged solo and out-sprinted his one remaining rival in Roubaix’s famous velodrome.
“I still don’t know how I did it, that’s what makes this victory so special. It’s nice to come to the velodrome. It was a fight, a big fight,” Cancellara said in a press conference. “I went over my limits. I just wanted to find the grass to lie down and have a few a minutes breathing, coming back to planet earth. I damaged myself like never before.”
During the question and answer session, Cancellara said more than once that he was exhausted from the day’s effort.
He took his third cobble stone trophy in the Hell of the North and just one week after his Tour of Flanders win. However, the win came after 254.5 kilometres, multiple attacks and some street-smart savvy.
As in Flanders, RadioShack controlled the early kilometres. Cancellara’s team-mates refused to let an early group go free with Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing). Cancellara fired a few times – in Bourghelles à Wannehain and Carrefour de l’Arbre – to weaken his rivals.
Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) made the decisive split on the Mons-en-Pévèle sector 45 kilometres out. Cancellara found himself alone and behind. He bridged solo to the lead group, saw Omega Pharma’s Zdenek Stybar and Vandenbergh lose ground to crashes and dealt with Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco).
He attacked four kilometres out, but was unable to shake the Belgian. He responded to Vanmarcke’s attack and headed the duo into the velodrome.
Keeping calm, drawing on years of experience in the Hell of the North, he slowed the race to a craw and forced Vanmarcke around on the banking. Vanmarcke led slowly for the next lap before starting his sprint.
“I tried to play the game on the track, but I don’t know how I did it, I just did it,” Cancellara added. “There was a standing still moment. The only moment I was scared when he went slow on the [banking]. I cramped all over.”
Vanmarcke, 24, spoke to the press earlier. He crashed in Tirreno-Adriatico and nearly needed surgery for his knee. He kept racing in the classics, knowing his only chance would come in Roubaix. It all came together for him. Just.
He grinned when asked if he was happy to be on the podium and said yes.
“I know I should be proud because first of all I’m so young,” Vanmarcke continued. “I know I should be proud, but it’s so disappointing when you get so close. The problem is when you start believing in the victory, that makes it even harder.”
Vanmarcke should be happy. He pushed one of modern cycling’s toughest classics gladiators to his outer-limits.