Peter Sagan’s mouth was agape, sucking for all the air it could find. His face was contorted in agony. And Fabian Cancellara was riding away — tearing away, really — up the Paterberg.
Seconds later, Spartacus would be all alone, riding to a Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) victory, setting himself up for another win at Paris-Roubaix a week later.
No, it wasn’t a comeback from the year before. It was pure vengeance; a rage against the fated water bottle that resulted in a broken collarbone at the previous year’s Ronde, a crash that sidelined the Swiss rider from his beloved northern classics. And everyone else had to pay the very hefty price for Cancellara’s revenge tour.
At 32, Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) took his second “cobbled double” — wins at both Flanders and Roubaix. The 2013 northern classics belonged to him alone, of that there is no doubt. Over the course of two weeks, the RadioShack star won E3 Harelbeke, Flanders, and Roubaix, and only one of them was close. What was most notable about the victories, however, was the fact that even though everyone knew what was coming, they found themselves powerless to stop it.
At Flanders, he attacked Sagan ferociously on the short, steep climb up the Paterberg, and then rode home alone. It was a ride of raw power, and a year in the making.
“One year ago I was on the ground. Now I am back and I’ve won Flanders on the new course,” he said. “To win as a big favorite, it’s not easy. And at the end, I did what I had to do, and that was to bring this Ronde van Vlaanderen home.”
At Roubaix, though, Cancellara was tested and tried by both the fabled cobblestones and the field itself. Belgian Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco) rode gallantly, and the two entered the Roubaix velodrome together.
“I knew my strengths. I knew my confidence,” Cancellara said. “In the end, we spoke not so much. I tried to play the game … to make him pull as well. To show him that I would not pull him to the finish line.”
The big Swiss rider entered the velodrome first, but cunningly forced Vanmarcke around him high on the fi rst turn. By the time the two came into the fi nal turn, Vanmarcke did everything right, forcing Cancellara up the banking, then diving low, driving as hard as a rider can after more than 250 kilometers, more than 50 kilometers of it on granite blocks. Cancellara took it in a tight sprint as the two powered over the line, through the chasing riders who had begun trickling into the velodrome.
Cancellara collapsed to the ground, and lay in the sun before needing help up, and then onto the podium.
“I was searching for victory. I don’t know how I did it. It was a big thing,” Cancellara said. “I was happy [to win]. But I was probably happier that the race was finished. The fight was finished … just lying down on the ground and having my minute of breathing and coming back to planet Earth.”
Editor’s Note: Read about all of our award winners in the December 2013 issue of Velo, out now.