Fabian Cancellara: Watching the Classics from the sidelines

A retired — but definitely not bored — Fabian Cancellara catches up with Cycling Weekly to talk about how it will feel to watch rather than ride the Monuments this spring

Fabian Cancellara

On April 6, 2003, Fabian Cancellara took to the start line in Bruges, to compete in his first ever Monument.

He finished the Tour of Flanders that day in an anonymous 73rd place, and DNF’d at Paris-Roubaix a week later — neither result providing any indication of the glittering career to come.

Fourteen years later the newly retired ‘Spartacus’ is readying himself to watch this brace of events he cherishes so much from the sidelines, and he’s not entirely sure how he’s going to feel: “I don’t know, they still have to come. I’m looking quite relaxed on those things but emotional-wise I’m still quite touched because I have a huge history with all these races.

Cancellara had the upper hand on Peter Sagan at the 2013 Tour of Flanders (Credit: Sunada)

“It’s a strange situation because I’m not competing any more. I don’t have a problem with that — I don’t feel bad, or sad, it’s just strange. I need to work out myself how I feel.”

While ongoing affiliations with Trek mean he should officially be cheering John Degenkolb and team-mates, it’s unlikely the Swiss, now 36, would begrudge his old jousting parter Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors) a fifth win at what will be the Belgian’s final Paris-Roubaix.

“He can do it. It’s possible,” says Cancellara of Boonen’s swansong effort.

“But it’s a really unpredictable race and even if you’re super-strong it doesn’t mean you can do a super thing. But of course, there are chances… there are chances.”

Watch: Paris-Roubaix essential guide

He sounds slightly dubious. And the idea that world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) will replace him as Boonen’s new arch-rival doesn’t fly with him either:

“After me it’s everything different. It will be different challenges, different winners — same as after Tom there will be everything different. So you cannot compare that.

"It’s going to be a new decade in cycling and there will be other battles. I will be left out, but the next few years will be quite interesting.

"I mean, Sagan is not under pressure any more, it’s about ‘can they beat him or not?’ — that’s the question.”

Cancellara himself may be ‘left out’, as he puts it, but he will be far from idle. In fact, he is already studying for a Certificate of Advanced Studies which encompasses sports management and marketing.

“It’s something I want to taste more now because I had a lot of practical [racing, one assumes], but it’s not enough to myself because I have quite big ambitions to myself.

"I had big ambitions as a rider so my ambitions are also in normal business.

“I’m not saying everything starts from zero but you have to calculate... because if you move one step forward but you don’t have the skills, you move three steps back.

>>> Fabian Cancellara: ‘They talk about Sagan and Van Avermaet, but it’s not the same as me and Tom’

"I want to have certain skills so if necessary I can use those.”

Fabian Cancellara has remained active since his retirement in 2016 (Sunada)
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

To exactly what ends he won’t divulge — only saying, “There are a few things going on. I can’t go into details but one is cycling, one is triathlon…”

He’s a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy and says he’s working on motivational speaking.

“Definitely I’m not just sitting home doing nothing. I need to find time to cycle, that is actually the biggest thing!”

It’s obvious that he’s a driven man. Whether it’s his studies, a future career or the world’s biggest bike races, the same fierce ambition burns within. And that, as he says, is how you become a winner in the Monuments:

“It’s the will — do not give up. The race is never finished. Especially Roubaix, the race is really never finished. It finishes on the finish line. It’s not only the capacity about how good a rider you are, it’s also about how mentally you can handle it.”

Whoever proves the strongest — mentally or otherwise — in the northern Classics this spring, Fabian Cancellara will be watching.

You can’t help but feel he’ll be wishing it was him, hands in the air once more, instead of standing at the sidelines, now just another onlooker.

Thank you for reading 20 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