OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — On the Monday following his Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) win, Fabian Cancellara addressed an overflow audience of Belgian fan club members who gathered at the Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen cycling museum in Oudenaarde, Belgium. At the reception, where the RadioShack-Leopard rider was presented with the personalized cobblestone that will join the long line of previous Ronde winners in the museum’s front window, Cancellara spoke of his feelings about winning his second Ronde, gave thanks to his fans and his health, and provided his thoughts on Eddy Merckx’s opinion that the Koppenberg should be removed from the Flanders route.
Cancellara told the gathering, which was limited to card-carrying Club Spartacus members, that his second Tour of Flanders win left him speechless with gratitude.
“It’s really special. I didn’t expect this,” the 32-year old said. “But on the other hand, this is a special place.”
Commenting on Belgian life, Cancellara said, “It’s really special seeing the life of here, what’s really here.” He added that without seeing Belgians at the races, “outside on the streets,” it is difficult for Swiss people at home to fathom the country’s passion for cycling.
“This year it was crazy,” Cancellara said. “So many people, and so much going on — I was really impressed.”
Cancellara said that in spite of having a minute lead over his chasers, he did not consider letting up to savor the final few hundred meters of the race. “When I am going, I’m going,” he said, provoking whistles, cheers, and applause from the sardine-packed house.
Cancellara said the crash that shattered his collarbone at last year’s Ronde, a fall at the London Olympics that sent him back to the hospital, along with family and team events made this win more exceptional than his first Flanders triumph in 2010.
“The emotion and what happened last year — last year I was on the ground and not far from here in the hospital,” Cancellara said, referring to the Flanders wreck that broke his collarbone in four places.
Personally, he said 2012 was poignant because his wife Stephanie gave birth to a daughter. And professionally, Cancellara referred to “the situation with the team” — which saw director Johan Bruyneel step down in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, and Nissan end its sponsorship of the team.
The 2008 Olympic time trial champion, Cancellara said all those events made him grateful not just for the Flanders win, but for his health.
Recalling his finish in Sunday’s race, Cancellara said, “I could see from far already somehow my wife standing there. And she was so happy, not because I won, but because I came back healthy.
“Winning isn’t everything. It’s important. I know what I want, but when you can come back home alive, it’s the biggest gift.”
Asked about the new Tour of Flanders course, which was redesigned to be more spectator-friendly but had some iconic climbs removed, Cancellara deadpanned (to the crowd’s delight), “Good. I won.”
Cancellara said he knew “there was a lot of talk” about the removal of the Bosberg and Muur Kapelmuur and moving the finish from Ninove to Oudenaarde, but he said, “I think it came at the right moment.”
Referring to the multi-lap closing format of the race that takes the riders up the same hills multiple times, Cancellara said fans, “see more, and that’s of course a great thing. It’s like you are riding in a stadium — a stadium full of people.“
Cancellara was asked whether he personally had difficulty with the Koppenberg, a narrow, slippery climb that often forces many riders to walk, and whether he agreed with Eddy Merckx that it should be removed from future races.
The climb should not be eliminated, Cancellara said, but perhaps it could be moved to the end of the race when the field is smaller. “You could take it as a last climb,” he said of the 600-meter, tree-lined trench. “Why not? I mean, we could do the whole lap again and then do Koppenberg and come towards Oudenaarde.
I don’t say it’s easy, but it’s still a monument. These kind of monuments should not be taken away.”