The Swiss classics and time trial champion led Trek Factory Racing on the small and sandy paths along the Marbella beach in southern Spain. The nine men placed sixth behind team BMC, but more importantly, Cancellara made his small step back to competition.
“I’m old enough, I have experience, but it’s not easy,” the 34-year-old said while rolling towards his team car. “Getting sick last week [ahead of a grand tour] was new for me, and it’s hard to stay calm and look ahead.
“I tried to stay calm this year with all the broken bones. I went from winning, sickness, to crashes… I had two peaks this year.”
Cancellara has won the Worlds time trial title four times. He counts three titles each in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. This year, he took stage victories in the Tour of Oman and in the Tirreno-Adriatico, but a crash early in the E3 Harelbeke, won by Sky’s Geraint Thomas, ruled him out of the classics.
He fractured two fractured vertebrae bones and only returned two months later. He rebounded well, though. At the Tour de France, he gained enough time in the opening time trial and in bonus seconds in stage two to take the leader’s yellow jersey.
The celebration ended quickly the next day near Huy, in Belgium. A high-speed crash involving around 20 cyclists from the peloton fractured two of his vertebrae and forced him to pull out overnight.
He continued to watch the race at home near Bern.
“It was one of the toughest Tours. The last week, in the last few days, the riders were attacking, but they were just tired attacks,” he said.
“The first 10 days were too stressed and too hard for everyone. From watching it, it was a like a 10-day team time trial on the front. When the yellow jersey doesn’t have the space on the front when his team is pulling, then things are different now.”
Cancellara squeezed the brake levers and slowed down. In a quiet area away from the fans on the seafront, he continued to reflect.
“Did I miss being away…? I don’t miss the suffering and pain with crashes and sickness, I had enough of a roller coaster ride this year,” he said. “I saw it today, when you are not crashed or sick, you deliver different things.”
He has one more year on his contract and intends to return to the classics next year, but he has repeatedly hinted that his career is almost over. For now, even he isn’t clear what his future holds.
“I’ll evaluate my condition and fatigue. I had a tough year. I need to see where my head is at,” he said.