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Cancellara’s improving sprint bolstering hopes for classics

By Andrew Hood • Published
Fabian Cancellara rides into the spring classics on top form. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

CASCINA, Italy (VN) — That Fabian Cancellara will be ready for the spring classics is not a worry for team brass inside the Trek Factory Racing bus.

The Swiss superstar is already on top form, taking a confidence-boosting stage victory in the Tour of Oman and just missing out on the leader’s jersey by just one second in the short, explosive opening prologue at Tirreno-Adriatico this week.

The spring classics are just around the corner, and the atmosphere is quietly percolating inside the Trek bus, not only due to Cancellara’s obvious strength, but also his top-end finishing sprint. For veteran sport director Dirk Demol, having that finishing kick after a long, abusive effort that comes with the monuments is often the difference between winning and losing.

“This is the luxury that he has. That after 260km, Fabian can still be fast,” Demol told VeloNews. “I am confident Fabian is on a good level. He is a master at peaking his form, and I am confident he will be ready for big results for the classics.”

Cancellara, 33, steamrolls into the 2015 classics season with big goals, with the idea of adding to his haul of monument victories of seven (three Paris-Roubaix, three Tour of Flanders, one Milano-Sanremo).

At this point in his career, Cancellara is only interested in polishing up his palmares, and that means more monuments.

The hard work began in November, with Cancellara and the other classics-bound riders on Trek, as well as all of the other major classics teams, putting in long, hard hours over the winter to be ready to shine for a few glorious weeks over the cobblestones of Flanders and northern France.

Last year, Cancellara was eternally impressive in the spring classics, with second at Milano-Sanremo, third at Paris-Roubaix, and an emphatic victory at Flanders.

Demol, who is considered one of the best classics-styled sport directors in the bunch, said Cancellara could be even more dangerous this season. He admitted Cancellara perhaps wasn’t at his top form last spring, but his experience, and ever-improving sprint, helped carry the day.

“Maybe last year he wasn’t at the top of his condition, but his experience and his sprint made the difference,” Demol said. “We have seen Fabian’s sprint improve a lot the last couple of years. Last year at Flanders, he wasn’t the strongest guy in the group, or even on paper, he wasn’t the fastest guy, but he beat them all. That says a lot about Fabian.”

How and why has Cancellara’s sprint improved? In large part, it’s because he’s focused even more on the major, one-day classics and monuments. By his own admission, the four-time world time trial champion has eased back on his previous dominance in time trials, even skipping the world time trial championship in 2014. By focusing even more on the monuments, Cancellara has been able to build upon the career-long depth he has in his motor and add more firepower to his finish-line sprint, the one element that so often is the decisive difference.

Younger rivals such as Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) are also always right there, but they come up short because they cannot finish off sprints over the top of the selective, race-winning moves.

For Demol, Cancellara’s top-end speed after six hours of racing is what makes the difference between winners and close calls.

“Even last year, he was second at Sanremo behind [Alexander] Kristoff, but he left a lot of other fast sprinters behind him. Also at Roubaix last year, he was beaten by [John] Degenkolb for second place, but he left a lot of fast riders behind him,” Demol said. “Already this year at Oman, he beat Valverde, Van Avermaet, [Peter] Sagan, so that confirms his sprint is OK.”

Demol said Trek will bring a solid and deep squad to protect Cancellara across the cobblestones, and will count on such riders as Gregory Rast, Hayden Roulston, Stijn Devolder, Yaroslav Popovych, Gert Steegmans, and Jasper Stuyven to carry Cancellara to the line.

“Last year, we had a bit of bad luck during the big races, but Fabian was still able to carry the day,” Demol said. “This year, the team is even deeper. We hope we can avoid the crashes and illnesses over the next few weeks, and bring everyone to the classics in top strength. We have a good group of 10-11 guys who will be ready.”

And if Cancellara’s sprint is even better, what about the sprinter’s classic, Milano-Sanremo? With organizers reverting to the old-school, historical course, moving the finish line back to the Via Roma, does that help Cancellara’s chances for a second Sanremo win?

Demol gave a Belgium shoulder shrug: “Boof, Sanremo is still a bit of a lottery. First, you have to get over the Poggio in good position, and hopefully not a lot of the fast, fast sprinters are there. Fabian is always there. We have a lot a confidence in him in the sprints.”

Friday’s third stage at Tirreno-Adriatico would provide yet another preview of Cancellara’s form ahead of the classics. And everyone else’s as well.

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