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The Spartacus Papers: Fabian Cancellara on what went wrong for Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert

Cancellara on how van Aert and van der Poel were too hot too early this season and whether their rivalry compares to his and Tom Boonen's.

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Fabian Cancellara knows a thing or two about the classics. After all, he won Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders three times, all while doing battle with archrival Tom Boonen.

So when the news broke at the start of this month that Roubaix was postponed to October, it was a no-brainer to give the retired Swiss legend a call.

We eventually caught up at the end of last week as “Spartacus” pedaled around the Swiss hills on a training ride. Still an avid fan of the sport, the 40-year-old downloaded his thoughts on all-things classics and the stars at the top of today’s peloton – particularly Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.

Here’s the third and final part of “The Spartacus Papers.” If you missed the first two installments, be sure to go back and read all about Cancellara’s love of Flanders, his 2013 “full gladiator” Roubaix victory, and his hopes for Peter Sagan.

VeloNews: Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert were the key players in the classics this year, and their rivalry has been likened to yours and Boonen’s. How do you think that it compares?

Fabian Cancellara: These huge battles of van Aert and van der Poel, they’ve been amazing. And of course, the Cancellara–Boonen came up pretty quick. And of course, we see the similarity. But in the future? It depends what way they want to go. Look at Wout at Tirreno, he can do so much, he can climb too. But the battles are great for the sport, it’s amazing. And in the future, well wow, they could each win all the monuments with their skills. But it’s interesting. Mathieu, he’s not a robot and as well, Wout, he got the most of the success this year but he showed he can be beaten a lot too.

VN: As you say, van Aert and van der Poel were both dominant but showed moments of weakness. What do you think may have been the cause of that?

FC: Mathieu was so good so early. I don’t know if because of the cyclocross season, it made the season so long and tough. It might have made him peak too early. I don’t know if the escape on the Tirreno stage left him too exhausted and he could not recover, because in Sanremo, Mathieu wasn’t that brilliant and everyone expected him to be. But of course, it was interesting to see the difference from Wout. He came from the training camps [on Tenerife, after the ’cross season] straight into Tirreno, straight into good performances and nice results, but with Mathieu, he built up totally differently, it was interesting to see. The thing is, they go every day into a race like it’s no tomorrow. I like the way they do it but, damn! Somehow your body must be tired once – it cannot always go.

Also read: Maybe Mathieu van der Poel is human after all

VN: Van Aert and van der Poel started the season in red hot form. How did their build toward the classics differ from the approach you typically took?

FC:  When I raced, I normally did three stage races at least, maybe Mallorca then Qatar, Oman, or Dubai depending on the schedules. Then the Italian races, Strade and Sanremo. But it depends how fast you go into the first races, and if you progress through the races or have a high level already, like Wout and Mathieu did. But if you progress through the races you still have that pinnacle to reach. I think Tirreno or Paris-Nice is the race that gives you the last little bump towards getting your condition at the perfect level for the classics, and then with Sanremo and the other races like Harelbeke and Wevelgem, that gives you the last extra.

Also read: Van Aert, van der Poel out of gas at Flanders

VN: What’s your take on van Aert and van der Poel running out of steam at the Tour of Flanders?

FC: It’s interesting that this year the riders started so fast. If you go to the first race and you race so bloody hard then the body’s shocked. I think, today still you need more base and then the intensity. If your body isn’t ready for that intensity, you’re going to get too much fatigue and might not recover anymore. That’s why I’m curious with these young guys, maybe they didn’t establish their condition and got fatigued too fast and never reached that top, top level. Before, when I raced, you peak for Sanremo to Flanders and then rest, and then you build again for the Tour de France. And if you get it right, you can then hold that for the rest of the year. But now it’s like ‘Tomorrow’s a race, ah let’s go – Boom! Oh, next week is another race, let’s go again, and boom!’

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.