Think of Fabian Cancellara and you’ll likely come up with the image of him powering to one of his three Paris-Roubaix or Tour of Flanders titles, but the Trek rider’s record in the Tour de France is equally formidable.
It’s a stat that’s been bandied around a lot in recent days and weeks, but Cancellara has held the Tour’s yellow leader’s jersey for a remarkable 29 days in his career – the most of any rider who has never won the three-week race.
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The sight of the Swiss in yellow in the first week of the Tour is not uncommon – once he takes the jersey he usually clings on to it for quite a while. Will 2015 be the same, or will someone stand up to Spartacus in the coming days?
What is different about Cancellara’s 2015 yellow jersey is that he didn’t take it on the first stage. The Trek rider has dominated opening-stage time trials in the Tour for the past 11 years, with Saturday’s 13.8km stage in Utrecht only the second time that he’s failed to win an opening TT.
He’s held the yellow jersey while a member of five different teams, albeit mostly a different iteration of the same team.
2004: Fassa Bortolo – held yellow for two days
2007: CSC Pro Team – held yellow for seven days
2009: Saxo Bank – held yellow for six days
2010: Saxo Bank – held yellow for six days
2012: Radioshack-Nissan – held yellow for seven days
2015: Trek Factory Racing – held yellow for one day (so far)
The 2010 race was the most similar to this year so far. While he took the prologue in Rotterdam, he lost the yellow to an inspired solo break from Sylvain Chavanel on stage two.
Chavanel promptly gave up all of the time he’d gained on stage three, handing the jersey back to Cancellara to keep hold of for another four days.
In Utrecht on Saturday, Cancellara was one of the 197 riders who could not match Rohan Dennis’s blistering time in the time trial, coming in six seconds down in third place.
But conditions on stage two to Zeeland were ideal for the Classics specialist – wind, rain, tactical racing and being in the right place at the right time.
He then came up with the goods in the final stages, with his trademark seated sprint enough to inch past Mark Cavendish on the line and gain the valuable bonus seconds to see him past Tony Martin on the leaderboard.
So, could we see another trademark stretch in yellow for the hulking Swiss rider? Or will he be a one-day wonder for the first time in his Tour career?
While the stats would point to him holding on past stage three, the parcours may disrupt his charge, with the sharp ascents of the closing kilometres not really playing to Cancellara’s strengths.
Strength is, of course, one of Cancellara’s strengths, but with the Mur de Huy the final obstacle on the 159.5km route it could be one uphill sprint too far.
Indeed, bookmakers are backing Tom Dumoulin to take yellow after stage three, sitting as he does just six-seconds back on Cancellara. Dumoulin’s no slouch in the hills and mountains, but he’s hardly set the world alight in the Ardennes Classics.
La Flèche Wallonne, where the Mur de Huy features, was the only of the three Ardennes races that Dumoulin didn’t race this spring – his only ever time on the course he finished 21st in 2014.
Tony Martin and Geraint Thomas are joint second-favourites to take the jersey but, like Dumoulin, their histories in the hilly classics aren’t particularly strong and in Thomas’s case, almost non-existant.
As a one-off stage any of these riders could spring a surprise on the final climb, or even grab the bonus seconds to see them leapfrog Cancellara, but in the same vein, Cancellara himself is capable of hanging in there up the 1.3km climb.
While none of the main contenders may not finish particularly high on the stage, they’d have to give up over a minute to relinquish the yellow to one of the stage favourites, Alejandro Valverde, Michal Kwiatkowski or Dan Martin.
Should he overcome Monday’s challenge, then comes Cancellara’s favourite surface – the cobbles, where he could even win the stage, given a free rein.
Stage five, six and seven should be pretty straight forward for a man of Cancellara’s talent and experience, but stage eight’s finish on the Mur de Bretagne could prove his unsticking.
Cancellara’s previous teams have been very receptive to the Swiss being in the leader’s jersey, even when he was riding for GC contenders like the Schleck brothers.
Some teams would look to give it away quite quickly so all of their resources can be focused on the overall goal, but Cancellara has always been given the licence to focus on his personal challenge and bring some of the spotlight to his team.
Don’t bet against Cancellara clinging on to his prized jersey on Monday’s stage and if that happens we could be in for another long stint of seeing Spartacus in yellow.
Highlights of stage two of the Tour de France