With everyone talking that the 2012 Tour de France is a route ideal for time trialists who can climb, there’s one name that’s missing from the early hype: Fabian Cancellara.
When the route was revealed last month in Paris, with two long individual time trials and only three summit finishes, many tipped riders such as Cadel Evans, Bradley Wiggins and Alberto Contador as early favorites.
But could this Tour also suit Cancellara, who won the 2009 Tour de Suisse?
“There are still a lot of mountains, but that could be a good idea,” longtime director Kim Andersen said with a wink.
Without question, Cancellara has one of the most potent motors in the sport. Despite his bulky build that’s powered him to success in the spring classics and time trials, he can climb fairly well.
During this year’s Tour, Cancellara buried himself to help the Schleck brothers, often leading the pack over late-stage summits, going so deep he even tapped out his fuel tank for the time trial stage. Cancellara has often been at the front end of the action on the Tour climbs, but always in a gregario-helper role.
What would it take for Cancellara to legitimately became a GC rider? Some say he could evolve into a type of rider similar to Miguel Indurain, who killed it in the time trials and later defended in the mountains.
Bjarne Riis, Cancellara’s longtime director at CSC/Saxo Bank, said Cancellara would need to lose more weight to seriously become a grand tour contender.
“Fabian would need to lose a lot of weight, maybe seven, eight kilos,” Riis said. “That’s a lot. There’s always the risk of losing the power in the time trial, but it’s possible.”
One rider who has transformed himself into a legitimate Tour contender by shedding big weight is Team Sky’s Wiggins, who lost eight kilos from his top weight when he won the Olympic gold medal in the individual pursuit.
Wiggins now is under 70kg, and he is consistently climbing with the best. The British rider scored his first career grand tour podium this year with third at the Vuelta a España and then backed it up with silver at the world time trial championships a week later.
Wiggins is 6-foot-3, even taller than the 6-foot-1 Cancellara, but much leaner. Cancellara tops out the scale at peak classics weight at 82kg and then trims down for the Tour, but he would need to shed even more weight to seriously be able to stay within range of the climbers on the key summits.
For Cancellara, it’s unlikely that this year’s Tour would be the year he could make a run for GC.
First off, he will be focusing on defending his Olympic time trial title during the 2012 Olympic Games in London, so he will be training to get back in top shape to fend off a serious challenge from Tony Martin for his Olympic crown.
Also, the Schleck brothers remain the clear leader at the newly merged teams between Leopard-Trek and RadioShack. Cancellara will be riding to help the Schlecks to try to win the Tour.
“For me, winning the Tour is a dream, but right now it remains a dream,” Cancellara said. “Maybe someday it would be possible, but a lot of things would have to change. I would have to lose weight. Right now, I want to win classics and world championships.”
And despite the statistic that there are only three summit finishes in the 2012 Tour, there are, in fact, more major climbs than this year’s edition, one that was hailed as a climber’s Tour. In 2011, there were 23 major climbs, for next year, 25.
Andersen said the team’s Tour strategy will be clearly behind the Schleck brothers for 2012 and will be counting on Cancellara to be part of a strong block of riders that they believe they will need to have chances to put one of the Schlecks on the top spot in Paris next summer.
“I think it’s still possible for the Schlecks to win. With a strong team you can make a hard race,” Andersen said. “There are enough climbs in this Tour for the Schlecks. Perhaps we have to attack earlier. There are a lot of time trials, so you have to win the race in other areas.”
For Cancellara, there remains the dream of winning all five of cycling’s “monuments.” He’s already won three — Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix — and he hopes to add Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Giro di Lombardia to his resume.
Those remaining two are more titled toward climbers, so if Cancellara loses weight to make a run at completing the historical monument sweep, he might already well be on the road toward losing that weight he would need to contend for the grand tour.
That’s all talk for the future. Right now, Spartacus will want to be at his very best in 2012 to win another spring classic and regain his top spot in the race against the clock. That means being big, strong and fast. He can save the Tour dream for another year.