Swiss star Fabian Cancellara has little time to waste thinking about his last act, instead he needs to race. After finishing second to Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) in the Tour of Flanders last Sunday, he is out to win his last cobbled classic: Paris-Roubaix this Sunday.
Cancellara has already won the Hell of the North three times. If he wins in Roubaix’s velodrome again he will tie the record at four wins with Tom Boonen and Roger De Vlaeminck.
“Emotional? I didn’t know how I’ll react on Sunday [Tour of Flanders]. I have to think about Roubaix only,” Cancellara said at team Trek-Segafredo’s hotel today in Bruges.
“I have to get it out of my head. I can’t stay awake thinking about it. I have to start Sunday with my game face on, otherwise it will be a long Roubaix. I race to win on Sunday.”
Cancellara pulled out of his first Paris-Roubaix in 2003, but returned to finish fourth in 2004. After eighth in 2005, he won in 2006. He allowed himself some time to reflect with the big appointment only two days away.
“Love at first sight? Yeah. My first Roubaix I gave it up at the second feed zone. In my second Roubaix, I fought all day for the win. It is a game more than just good legs, you have to be mentally strong, don’t crack after some bad luck, because it can still turn around. You can’t quickly throw in the towel.”
Cancellara won in 2006 and 2010 with CSC/Saxo Bank and in 2013 with his new team, RadioShack-Leopard which morphed into Trek-Segafredo.
“The first win was special because it was my first,” he said. “The 2010 victory came after a long 50-kilometre solo ride and then in 2013, there was the sprint against Sep Vanmarcke. Each of those victories I cherish, you can’t name one over the other.”
In those years, the 35-year-old duelled with Tom Boonen. The 35-year-old Belgian fell in the Abu Dhabi Tour in October and fractured his skull. He is still trying to reach top condition, but Cancellara does not count his long-time rival out.
“We’ve had some great duels. We are now the oldies in the peloton and younger riders are improving and hungry, but I am also hungry for this victory. Tom, too,” added Cancellara.
“He is a favourite, as is Peter Sagan. He lacks a result in Roubaix, but it is a course that suits him, especially with his background as a mountain biker. Who was good in Flanders will be there on Sunday in Roubaix. Only Team Sky comes in with a different team.”
Earlier on Friday afternoon, down the E40 motorway at Omega Pharma/Etixx’s headquarters in Nazareth, Boonen met with journalists.
“The day is coming that I’ve been waiting for,” Boonen said. “It’s the day that I’ve been looking forward to since I re-started my training this winter. I don’t know if I’m at my absolute best, but I’m at my best possible level now.”
Asked about Etixx-QuickStep’s plan, he said: “You don’t need a plan to win Paris-Roubaix, you need balls.”
Etixx is desperate for a win before the classics season ends. Belgium’s top team has been on its back foot for much of the classics campaign, either missing moves or lacking the strength needed to win.
“I’ll definitely consider Tom Boonen,” continued Cancellara. “In Roubaix, they’ll circle the team around him. They will have to think carefully about the tactics they will use, what they do after the Wallers sector. Tom is a favourite for Sunday, certainly.”