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Cancellara at a crossroads: Horner needs help, but rainbow beckons

ANDORRA (VN) — To time trial, or not to time trial? That is the question for Fabian Cancellara ahead of the world championships later this month.

The RadioShack-Leopard rider is going so well right now, he doesn’t quite know what to expect from the upcoming worlds, set for September 22-29 in Tuscany.

Spartacus lusts for the missing jewel of his crown, the prestigious world road title, and he is approaching Florence with the singular focus on the rainbow jersey.

Yet his improving form in the time trial presents an interesting quandary, with the pro team time trial and the individual time trial stacked up ahead of the road race. So Cancellara and the team brass are mulling their options.

“There is still no decision yet for Fabian and the worlds,” RadioShack general manager Luca Guercilena told VeloNews. “The road race is his big dream. It’s what’s missing. But he is very strong right now in the time trials. We are discussing all the options.”

Cancellara’s approach to the worlds this year is unique in that his absolute goal is to try to win the rainbow jersey on the road. Already boasting four world titles in the time trial, the 32-year-old Swiss wants to make the best possible approach to the road race on September 29.

The question is whether racing the pro team time trial on September 22, the individual time trial on September 25 or both  will hurt or help his form ahead of the road race.

It’s not only the concern of being able to recover fully from the hard, intense efforts of the time trials. There is also a risk of an unexpected accident or illness.

The first question mark is the team time trial on September 22.

With Cancellara in the lineup, RadioShack would have a very good chance of hitting the podium. Without him, its chances diminish greatly. At the Vuelta, Cancellara helped RadioShack ride to second, just 10 seconds behind Astana.

“The team time trial is big for the sponsor,” Guercilena said. “There is nearly a week between the TTT and the road race, so that is not so much of a problem.”

The second question mark is the individual time trial.

The event has been moved from Thursday to Wednesday, in part to give riders more time to recover from the intense hour-long effort before the road race.

Cancellara has already proven he can do both the time trial and road race and be competitive. He won the TT world title in 2009 on home roads in Mendrisio, then rode to fifth on a hilly course similar to the one he will face this year.

But while Cancellara once ruled the time trials, he’s stepped back over the past few years, just as Martin emerged as the new TT king.

And despite his morale-boosting win against two-time defending time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in this year’s Vuelta, the German will still be the favorite to win on the mostly flat course.

“Fabian had a great win here, but Tony is still the best on a course like that,” Guercilena said. “It’s a flat course, a power course. Fabian could be close to the win, but maybe he is not the favorite.”

And finally there is the Vuelta and the remarkable performance of team leader Chris Horner. Going into Sunday’s stage, the 41-year-old American was in second place overall at 50 seconds back.

Typically, Cancellara would pull out of the Vuelta early, especially with a stage win under his belt, his worlds form shaping up and nothing but mountains between here and Madrid.

But Horner’s amazing ride adds a new wrinkle to Cancellara’s approach.

Cancellara has provided key support through the first half of the Vuelta, and with the unexpected departure of Basque climber Haimar Zubeldia due to intense cold in Saturday’s stage, Horner will need all the help he can get if he keeps pushing Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) for the Vuelta leader’s jersey.

So what do RadioShack and Cancellara do? Ride all the way to Madrid to help Horner’s podium bid, and risk not having sufficient recovery? Race the team time trial, skip the individual time trial, and bet everything on the road race? Race only the road race? Or simply race all three, and swing for the fences?

“That’s what makes cycling so interesting,” Guercilena said. “You have Plan A, then the you have Plan B, and sometimes you have to tear it all up, and start all over again.”


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