Fabian Cancellara rode around the peloton in Tirreno-Adriatico this week and confirmed to his peers, "Yes, this is really my last year." The Swiss Classics and time trial specialist, 35 on Friday, says that some still cannot believe he is leaving.
Team Trek-Segafredo's Cancellara will race the final stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico on Tuesday. He won the same 10.05km time trial last year on Italy's eastern coast in San Benedetto del Tronto. Monday night in the Hotel International's meeting room, he spoke with a small group of press before sitting in the dinning room to eat the hotel's lasagne, as he has for the last six years.
"I get questions even from the other riders, 'Is it really your last season?'" Cancellara said. "Today, I spoke with Peter Sagan, the other day with Mark Cavendish, they say, 'We understand you.' Some say, 'Why are you leaving?' But everyone will have their day when they will leave. I'm looking forward to not packing and unpacking my suitcases, the travelling and the training.
"I didn't want to do it like Alberto Contador, 50-50 he stops or he doesn't, or he creates a new team. Or how it is with Tom Boonen, where everyone's asking him what he is going to do. 'Is this your last year? Your last Roubaix?' All the time. I just want to enjoy riding my bike for the last races."
Cancellara time trialled to four world titles and dominated Northern Europe's cobbles to win the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix three times each. This 2016 season, his last, appears to be on the right track already with wins in the Challenge Mallorca, the Volta ao Algarve and the one-day Strade Bianche race.
"It's not just easy. The first days in Tirreno-Adriatico I was not feeling ready to make those efforts," he added.
"That's why I said that I look ahead to a time of not always having to be ready. This year, I want it to fall into place. It was probably better for me that we skipped the summit finish Sunday. I don't want to get sick. It's better. I needed everything to be right for this year."
Watch: Fabian Cancellara's new Trek Madone for 2016
He called 2015 a "roller coaster" season. He won in Tirreno-Adriatico, crashed out of the Classics, returned to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, fell and abandoned while doing so, and fell sick on his re-entry in the Vuelta a España.
"A year like that is not what I want [to end my career]. If you have regrets, and you stop... I would have a problem with that. 2016 is full of nice things. This is really the perfect year for me," said Cancellara.
"My mark is already left. I'm from another generation. When I saw that sprint with Caleb Ewan and Fernando Gaviria [both 21 years old], I thought, 'I'm old already!' I'm curious to see how it will be when I look back. All the wins I have so far, really impressed others. It feels nice to have that respect from the riders.
"I went to Strade Bianche because it was hard and the level of riders was high. It's a mix of Ardennes and Flanders Classics races. I worked well. I focused on winning, not everything else around.
"If I didn't win, I'd accept it. The same with all the Classics ahead. If you go into the race 100% and you are just beat by three or four others, I have to accept that."
The big one-day Classics season starts with Milan-San Remo on Saturday and continues with E3 Harelbeke, Ghent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
"Emotional in Milan? Of course, I'll be," continued Cancellara.
"It's the last time I start and roll out of Milan, but on the other hand, I know that I've won and I've done well over the years in the race.
"It's the most unpredictable race in my opinion. A lottery. It's my feeling. With or without Mànie, the cold and rain, or without the cold and rain. Of course, you need to have the instinct and certain experience. Which I have. For me, though, it still stays the biggest lottery of the year."
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1