After strong Ronde performance, RadioShack’s eyes are on the Roubaix prize

After two seasons of sub-par classics performances, Cancellara's supporting cast is coming on strong on the cobbles

GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Fabian Cancellara is back to business even with another Ronde van Vlaanderen title on his palmarès. Two crashes in as many days will not hold the Tour of Flanders champion back from attempting to claim a third Paris-Roubaix title — at least according to his RadioShack-Leopard team.

“It was an exciting time for us, but the parties ended early on Sunday night because we know that Paris-Roubaix is coming up. We started again with our feet on the ground Monday, looking towards Roubaix,” general manager Luca Guercilena told VeloNews. “Monday he had an easy day out, 35 or 40 kilometers, 1.5 hours. He went out for three hours with some motorpacing near Bruges [Tuesday].”

But crashes marked the Swiss’ rides on Wednesday and Thursday. Cancellara went down with three others, including Bernie Eisel (Sky), in the Scheldeprijs on Wednesday. Today, he hit the deck again while previewing Roubaix’s cobbled sectors.

After riding in the team car for roughly 15km, Cancellara climbed back on his bike and continued scouting Sunday’s sectors before returning to the team’s classics headquarters in Bruges, Belgium. VeloNews understands that Cancellara crashed on the same left side that he injured on Wednesday, and was sore and tight, but the team denied Eurosport reports that he had transferred to an area hospital.

RadioShack control

RadioShack delivered Cancellara to his second Ronde van Vlaanderen victory on Sunday in a manner reminiscent of Great Britain’s 2011 world championship ride for Mark Cavendish. It designated certain men — Gregory Rast, Yaroslav Popovych, and Hayden Roulston — for the middle of the race and former winner Stijn Devolder for the final 30 kilometers. It was the most team support the Swiss had seen in one of the cobbled classics since transferring to the Leopard team from Saxo Bank for 2011.

Despite the two mid-week crashes, Cancellara is still the out-right Roubaix favorite at 8:13 odds with In comparison, Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) sits as favorite No. 2, at 11:1.

The teams know this and the pressure of controlling the race will fall squarely on RadioShack’s shoulders. Guercilena said the team is ready, buoyed by earlier criticism.

“We were quite self-confident Sunday and we were pissed about what we heard the critics say. They say our team is weak, but it’s not right. It gave us some powerful motivation,” Guercilena said. “We know it’ll be hard to control the race again; we know that everyone will be looking at us to do it again. We will see how we manage, but we are going to try to do it even better.

“We’ll have to try to have guys ready for the start. We will try to save the riders with the best condition to be there with Fabian in the final. For him to show his ability, he needs a team to put him into position for the right moment. There will be many attacks, so it won’t be easy, but with the self-confidence we gained from Flanders we’ll be good.”

The Italian sees Roubaix as the harder race for Cancellara to win. In De Ronde, he explained, RadioShack could rely on the cobbled bergs to make a “natural selection.”

“Roubaix is particular because there are not climbs to make the natural selection,” he said. “It’s flat, so there’s the risk to have someone on your wheel and beat you in the sprint.”

Exiting the dark tunnel

Even with the crashes this week, Cancellara has put his troubles behind him. Last year, the Flanders peloton left him on the side of the road with a broken collarbone.

The Swiss returned to win the prologue and wear the leader’s yellow jersey in the Tour de France, but crashed while leading the Olympic road race. After suffering through the time trial, he ended his season early.

It was a troubled season, without even mentioning Andy Schleck’s Critérium du Dauphiné crash, rumors of riders not being paid, Fränk Schleck’s doping positive, and former GM Johan Bruyneel’s involvement in the Lance Armstrong doping scandal and subsequent resignation.

Cancellara’s E3 Harelbeke win earlier this month helped him exit the dark tunnel. De Ronde further distanced his worst professional season to date. Guercilena, who took over before the off-season, has helped the team along.

“I don’t forget the bad Ronde we had; everyone was disappointed to miss out, but we’ve been trying since this winter to be ready again,” Guercilena explained. “The others saw Cancellara’s focus, his attention to detail, and that made them give even more. For sure, everything has gone well this season versus a bad season last year. … We passed through a tough season, which was mostly due to the psychological pressure we had. We’re now rebuilding slowly.”

Cancellara will continue training on Friday. The day includes one of his final appointments before the “Hell of the North,” a pre-Roubaix press conference during which he will surely face close scrutiny over his crashes and the strength of his RadioShack team.